Superteacher To The Rescue!

Monday, September 21, 2009
Given the recent spate of federally-funded studies showing no effect of a variety of educational innovations and interventions, my predicted answer to the question ('Can Teachers' Talent Translate Elsewhere?') posed in this Houston Chronicle story is "no."

I worry, however, that the basic premise of the federally funded Talent Transfer Initiative is faulty and builds upon the notion of teaching (as reinforced by popular culture) as an individual rather than as a collective pursuit. Can 'superteachers' walk into dysfunctional school cultures and work magic that can result in a quantifiable impact on student learning? Some surely can. (It's too bad we can't clone Jamie Escalante and Frank McCourt, isn't it?) More important to ask is, should we expect them to?

What is more desperately needed than an expensive scheme to redistribute 'superteachers' is a serious attention to teaching and learning conditions. My New Teacher Center colleague, Eric Hirsch, spearheads assessment of school culture and the training of school administrators to more effectively shape it. His and independent research (here and here) has identified that teacher effectiveness is facilitated by a positive school context, including support from leadership, the existence of a collaborative working environment, and time for professional learning.

It doesn't appear that the Talent Transfer Initiative envisions teaching and learning conditions as part of the solution, and that's terribly unfortunate. I wonder if the TTI is even collecting such data to investigate the relationship between these variables and teacher success, or lack thereof? Until we address these contextual issues in low-performing and hard-to-staff schools, we're not going to get the results that we expect and students deserve.

UPDATE (9:35 p.m.) -- Claus von Zastrow offers an excellent blog post on Public School Insights about this study as well.