Jay's Take: Schools Need Energy More than Experience
Today’s front page story, “Poor Neighborhoods, Untested Teachers,” is the best researched and most interesting article I have ever seen on inexperienced teachers in the Washington area. The data and explanations by my colleagues Daniel de Vise, Michael Alison Chandler and Dan Keating will lead many readers to insist that we find ways to get more veteran teachers into public schools in low-income neighborhoods. But that would be the wrong approach.
There is something to be said for equalizing spending on schools in affluent and poor neighborhoods, since funding formulas are thrown out of whack by experienced teachers moving themselves and their higher salaries to schools in less disadvantaged neighborhoods. Veteran urban superintendents like Arlene Ackerman, who now runs the Philadelphia schools, have pioneered that approach. But offering more experienced teachers big bonuses to teach in the inner city is not likely to have much effect on learning.
Schools improve when their cultures change, not when their ratios of experienced and unexperienced teachers are recalculated. Schools in poor neighborhoods having the most success are those put in the hands of talented principals given the power to hire and fire their staffs to enhance achievement, and who use those powers to create a building-wide commitment to improving learning through teamwork. Such principals pick new teachers not so much on their experience, but on their energy and focus and imagination. The data show that after the one or two tough initial years in the classroom, when teacher effectiveness in general is not very good, experience is not a useful marker of which teachers are best for a school. Other factors influence classroom effectivness after the first three years, and that is what good schools should focus on.
Washington Post editors
| April 27, 2009; 12:20 PM ET
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