Teachers matter

Here’s an interesting write-up of a high school turnaround.

Decades ago, the school was slivered off from a suburban school district by the neighboring urban school district so it could meet its racial diversity targets. That district, along with this school, when down hill and only a third of students were graduating.

Fast forward to 2007 and the residents of this area voted to move back to the suburban school district.

Now, just five years later, 90 percent graduate from that high school.

The surprising bit for me: The new school district only hired 12 people from the previous district to fill the 400 positions to staff the schools that transitioned.

That surprised me because my mental model had been that the teachers are less important in the school failure equation than student and parent expectations. Perhaps I need to rethink that.


14 thoughts on “Teachers matter

  1. Teachers do matter – more correctly stated, it matters whether your teacher is a good teacher or a bad teacher. Currently, our public school systems don’t discriminate between good and bad teaching. Tenure removes incentives to teach well rather than just get by. It also removes the ability of school systems to jettison bad teachers.

    All of this does not negate what the teachers are teaching. The schools were measured based on now well they taught the material and ideas the students were tested on. If the tests reward test answers that agree with a particular ideology or point of view – and that ideology or point of view differs from what the parent believes – effective teaching may or may not be something you find favorable. Why do you think the left has taken over the humanities and left science relatively unscathed?

    • PS – We all know O’s response. Rather than propose welfare reform, he’ll paint this as a need to raise the minimum wage.

    • I’m amazed that we never heard that before. Of course, we all know that wouldn’t choose welfare over work, just because it pays more/

  2. If I think back to my experiences in school, I can say that teachers definitely matter – particularly in the micro-sense. I learned better, was more engaged, had more “eureka” moments click-on, etc. with certain teachers than with others. For managing a single school, I would think that optimizing teachers would be a significant factor in success.

    But if we look at it from a broader perspective, across many schools and districts (i.e. – a more macro-sense), I would expect parent/student expectations to be a, if not THE, major driver. When we look at many schools and districts I would expect that facilities, money spent, teachers, etc. approach the mean, so in that case expectations/desire would probably show up as a differentiating factor.

    Then again, it could just be another example of how far to the left-hand tail and messed up the KCMO school district is.

    • Good point. Kind of like how Tim Harford, in the “Undercover Economist”, observed that China made a lot of progress at first simply by doing stuff like paving roads. It probably makes sense that a failing district didn’t necessarily have the best teachers for teaching. Maybe for babysitting disruptive students that administrators didn’t want to send home, but maybe not for teaching students who are interested in learning.

  3. People matter; facilities, not too much.

    Let me put it another way: I would rather have a chili dog with my wife in some greasy spoon in Nowheresville than a lobster dinner with Obama in the White House.

    • I agree. School districts have really got into gold-plating their facilities. Unfortunately, I think that is driven by the desire to attract families who think that’s important.

      It might be a result of the more or less centrally defined curriculum. Since most school districts predominantly offer that tract, they are left to differentiate themselves on facility amenities instead of curriculum.

      • It happens even in public school systems that have restrictions on out of district transfers. I wonder how many school systems publish standardized test results for EACH individual school.

  4. It’s funny, even with the “bias” introduced by your headline, I still clicked the link and went looking for confirmation of my own “bias”, namely that dramatic turnaround like this is only possible by throwing out the malcontents, criminals, low performers, etc. I went looking and found what I was looking for in the comments.

    It seems the KC school district had a 30+ year policy of busing kids across town for school. By splitting off, the new school district eliminated the busing and effectively evicted a large mass of the former student body.

    To truly compare any performance change in the new school, we’d need to account for the dramatic demographic shifts associated with the change in served population.

    • That may be a good point. I share your belief that taking problem children out of school also matters, but I’m not confident busing was excessive in this case. It would be interesting to know more stats on that. I think most of the turnover would have been from the students that were on the margins, in and around the school district limits.

  5. Pingback: Bad Teacher | Our Dinner Table


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