Should Education Reform Focus on Average Teachers?

By improving the quality of the middle 60 percent of teachers, reformers could affect the most amount of improvement for students.

Steve Peha is a North Carolina-based education consultant, and he's come up with a way to address teacher quality that could be called "The Ichiro Suzuki model"—after the Seattle Mariners outfielder who eschews home run hitting for making contact, getting on base, and scoring runs. Inspired by the solid, future Hall of Famer, Peha offers for consideration the following tenet: focus on the average teachers.

According to William Sanders, the founder of the controversial value-added teacher assessment metric, the top 20 percent of teachers is three times more effective than they bottom 20 percent. Peha suggests commending the top quintile and allowing the bottom to exit the profession via attrition in order to improve the middle 60 percent of teachers.

He suggests improving average teachers by exposing them to more efficient teaching techniques, such as teaching the alphabet from sound rather than name, doing away with the five-paragraph essay in favor of more expository writing (which is also a back door method to teaching reading comprehension), and teaching multiplication and division via mathematical triads, like "3-8-24."

Peha writes:

Let’s work on little switches that get big results. Let’s focus on getting three million average teachers to exchange ten bad practices for ten good ones.
This may seem trivial, perhaps even meaningless, but it’s earth-shattering in its implications:
Pick the right 10 practices, implement the right 10 solutions, and average teachers would get above average results.
As more teachers began to share these practices, we would benefit from something I call “instructional economies of scale” where kids who encountered a practice in a previous situation would learn it even faster in a new situation. As a result, average kids might perform at even better than above average levels over time.
In addition to being more efficient and far less rancorous than the current fire-happy climate of school administration, Peha may have stumbled onto a solution that reformers and unions could both get behind.
Via The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog; Photo (cc) via Flickr user kieloch.\n
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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