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Wrong Ideas About Teacher Hiring and Evaluation

By Kim Marshall, TIE Columnist

The article: “Myths About Teaching That Are Distracting Policy- makers,” by Barnett Berry in The Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog, 24 March 2011; (spotted in PEN Weekly NewsBlast, 1 April 2011).
In this article in The Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog, Barnett Berry of the Center for Teaching Quality in North Carolina says that five myths have policy-makers barking up the wrong trees as they try to improve the quality of teaching. “What we need,” he says, “… are millions of well-prepared, highly savvy teachers who know how to teach the iGeneration and work successfully in teams in order to serve diverse public school populations that include large numbers of English language learners and students from poverty.”
• Myth #1: Teacher preparation is not important. Nonsense, says Mr. Berry. The teachers who will be the most effective in the classroom and are most likely to stay in the profession are those who get first-rate preparation and extensive clinical training, including a full-year internship. Teachers with this kind of training do better than those prepared in traditional university programs or alternative pathways such as Teach for America.
• Myth #2: Experience does not matter. On the contrary, says Mr. Berry, additional experience up to 20 years correlates with better content knowledge, classroom management, teaching strategies, novel and creative adaptations, and ability to work in stressful conditions. Experience makes the biggest difference when teachers work with the same grade or subject for several years, especially in their rookie years. “Experience does not guarantee effective teaching,” says Mr. Berry, “but when schools are organized to draw on their best teachers, it matters a lot.”
• Myth #3: Incompetent teachers are the problem. Of course ineffective teachers need to be dealt with, says Mr. Berry, but there are far fewer of them than alarmist press reports would suggest. The Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) has conducted thousands of rigorous, results-focused teacher evaluations across the U.S. and found only a small percentage of unsatisfactory teachers. “There is ample evidence,” says Mr. Berry, “that we are obsessing on a small problem while we give short shrift to professional development strategies that could move large numbers of teachers from satisfactory to excellent.”
• Myth #4: Teacher tenure makes it impossible to fire ineffective teachers. Tenure reform is necessary, says Mr. Berry, but it is not the heart of the matter. He notes that high-performing nations like Finland have strong unions and teacher tenure, while some low-performing states in the United States do not. Our problem, as documented by recent studies by The New Teacher Project and the Center for American Progress, is dysfunctional teacher-evaluation systems and poorly-trained and under-supported principals. “We need to identify our most effective teachers, using fair, rigorous, and valid measures, and let them lead the way in removing ineffective colleagues,” says Mr. Berry.
• Myth #5: Merit pay will motivate teachers to do better. Recent studies have found that performance pay works only if it is designed to improve school climate, provide classroom support, involve teachers, encourage collaboration, and look at more than standardized test scores.
Summary reprinted from Marshall Memo 380, 4 April 2011.

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