Parents Should Be Allowed to Pick Teachers

In a recent article, Time blogger Andrew Rotherham argues that not only should parents take care when picking their child’s school, but they should be able to go so far as to pick their child’s teacher as well.  He argues that even in good schools, teacher effectiveness is so variable that there is still no guarantee each child will have a great teacher.  He notes that while school choice is a hotly debated topic, there has been no concerted effort to “empower families” by giving them the right to pick their teachers.

Rotherham cites several large-scale studies that support the idea that students who are consistently placed in classrooms where the teacher is at least average makes a big difference in outcomes and long-term achievement.  Furthermore, he cites a recent study by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research that found teacher effectiveness is more variable within schools than across schools, particularly in high-poverty schools.  But the best teachers at high-poverty schools are just as good as the best teachers elsewhere—and conversely, even good schools have bad teachers.

Rotherham is clear that he is not arguing that parents should just try to “find the good teachers in an overall lousy school,” but rather to dig deeper.  Talk with other parents to find out about their child’s school and teachers.  Do other parents try to avoid certain teachers or get their child placed with particular teachers?  Then make your own preferences known to school officials before they make class assignments.  They may not accommodate, but at the same time, it is important to make your preferences known.  After all, “squeaky wheels do get the grease.”

The bottom line for Rotherham is that parents need to become more actively involved in their child’s class placements.  Leave the arguing about teacher effectiveness to the union leaders and policy advocates; the “most salient finding from the research about teacher quality is simply that parents cannot afford to treat their children’s education as a spectator sport.”

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