Tuesday, March 9, 2010


In between reading a lot about early childhood and public education, thinking about early childhood and public education, talking to people about early childhood and public education, and bragging about how much I know about it, I occasionally stumble across a piece that totally justifies some of the stuff that I spout about.

Whenever people talk about a "good school district" or getting into a neighborhood with the "best school" I cringe, sometimes outwardly. People often equate "good" schools with test scores, and test scores, when viewed in their entirety and based on averages, are solely a reflection of the mother's level of education and the mother's involvment in their child's education. This holds true across all spectrums. Find me a "good" school and I'll show you mothers who have college degrees and probably attend PTA meetings. Find me a school with low test scores, and I'll show you mothers who don't have college degrees. This was some of the data I focused on during my graduate work - it holds true from K-12 education and also holds true of students who graduate from college in 5 years or less. I have a master's degree in higher education administration, but my coursework included a lot of reading and analyzing research and some conducting research.

My friend Marya (who is actually a trained statistical evaluator) often says that you have to pull out pieces of the statistics and look at the children in the data set who have the same characteristics as your child. My sister (who has a master's degree in early childhood special education and is a Reggio Emilia trained teacher) says that you have to observe the classrooom and the classroom environment to find the "best." I say, after everything I've read, that the principal and the teacher make the greatest difference. Good principals attract good teachers and vice-versa. Find me a good teacher and I'll show you someone who can raise test scores.

But what, exactly, is a good teacher ? While your definition may differ from mine, I think we would agree that a good teacher can adapt his/her style to a variety of children.

Finally, I have some justification to what I spout. Building a Better Teacher in The New York Times.

How sweet it is to be RIGHT !!!


{sue} said...

There was an article a few years ago in the Washington Post magazine by Jay Mathews about this and basically, the conclusion was that smart kids do well in almost any environment. I've always held on to that when making my school choices. (And my habit of collecting graduate degrees is only HELPING my kids, then, right? I am SO GLAD to read this! Heh!)

Also, I have no idea what Reggio Emilia is, but Italian names always sound impressive in ECE.

Also, as far as school choice, I was most comfortable with a school that was similar to the one I went to. That was really my unconscious benchmark.

Elaine said...

I think we have to think about these issues a little deeper than your opening. It's not enough to say that kids with highly educated mothers and involved mothers do well, because we know there will always be mothers who are not highly educated, and not involved, and we cannot ignore them. Those are the kids we, as a society, need to be worrying about, and wondering what we can do. We can't just resign ourselves to saying they're doomed. So for these kids, I say - do fight hard to get in the school district with the highest scores. There are probably reasons beyond your mother that the scores got that way. Since many of those kids in these schools will have every advantage in life, maybe more resources will be available to your child, who is disadvantaged.

And what about those children who have highly educated, involved mothers who don't do well (few as they may be)? Aren't these also the kids we should be worrying about? We can't resign ourselves to the averages here either and say that we don't have to worry about these kids, because by virtue of birth, they will be fine. As a society concerned about the education of our children, we have to figure out why these kids are different.

And we also need to focus on those students who do well, despite the odds. What makes them different? This is where Eric's (my college education policy instructor) and Jane's (who sits a few doors down the hall from me) research comes into play. And it's important work.

So the article does go deeper and says there's something more to it - and if anyone can figure out what it is, my money is on Tom Kane - and thank the stars that he agreed to work with Gates on this. So now we have to hope he figures out just what is a good principal and what is a good teacher? And here, I agree with your point, and the article's point, that good teachers and principals probably matter an awful lot. But we can't know for sure until we can figure out the similarities in the "good" teachers.

To ignore method is probably a mistake as well. Yes, people self-select into particular methods, and that makes it very hard to tease out differences in method because it's easy to bogged down in demographics, but it's hard to believe there isn't something there. It might be the method, it might be the training, it might be the ability to attract "good" teachers.

The models aren't good enough to figure out individual fixed effects, and I'm guessing that in education, these fixed effects matter an awful lot.

Blogging tips