Students Know: Quality Teachers Make a Difference

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Last week the papers were filled with news about America's plummeting education system.  Shanghai took top PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) awards in math, science, and reading. The United States came in 31st in math, 23rd in science, and 17th in reading.

While the PISA tests raised alarms, the revelation that America's schools are failing many of our students is no surprise.

In 2007, The Future of Children's Excellence in the Classroom issue evaluated K-12 education in the United States and recommended policies for reform.  Research on teacher quality showed not only that students who have good teachers learn more, but that their learning is cumulative if they have good teachers for several consecutive years.  A child in poverty who has a good teacher for five years in a row could have learning gains large enough, on average, to completely close the achievement gap with higher income students.

According to a December 10, 2010 New York Times article, What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Students, students themselves identified which teachers were most effective.  Based on preliminary research from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers found that there was substantial agreement between students' ratings of teachers and teachers' value-added scores. 

Students know quality teaching when they experience it. 

As No Child Left Behind comes up for re-authorization in 2011, it is critical that we advocate and engage students, as well as teachers, policy makers, and community members, in conversations and initiatives that will improve education in the United States.

For more information on the Future of Children's recommendations for education policy, go to our volumes on America's High Schools and Excellence in the Classroom.

The Gates Foundation provided support for the Future of Children's journal on Fragile Families, and will provide funding for our upcoming journals on Immigrant Children, Work and Family, and Post Secondary Education in the United States, all of which devote significant attention to education policy and practice.

6 Comments

The premise here is that the quality of teachers in the U.S. has declined over time. This is almost impossible to measure. My gut feeling is that teachers today are at least as good if not better than they were decades ago. I can't buy the notion that foreign teachers are more skillful than American teachers. Other factors must be playing a part.

Thank you very much for the insightful comment, David! Just to be clear, I do not mean to suggest that teacher quality has declined over time. Rather, the purpose of the post is to highlight the importance of teacher quality in moving education forward. You are right that it is very difficult to measure the complex reasons why American education fares poorly in international comparisons. There are certainly many factors playing a part, but improving teacher quality - even if that means taking it from great to excellent - can play a significant role in improving U.S. education. We want to encourage policy makers to structure policy with this in mind.

Thank you for your comment. I disagree with your assertion that ..."improving teacher quality - even if that means taking it from great to excellent - can play a significant role in improving U.S. education." I don't think improving teacher quality will make a "significant" difference. I believe it will make a very very small difference. I believe we should encourage policy makers to keep searching for other, more impactful, measures to improve U.S. education.

I have been trying to improve our educational systems for sometime now. I do believe that the Teachers have to be good, if they do not teach through their hearts the students pick up on this! They will not be as eager to learn.

Education systems teach people to memorize. We have to change this immediately.

This is just awesome! Thanks for the share.

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