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America's best teacher and the L.A. Times

When the Los Angeles Times announced it was releasing its analysis of how much value each one of 6,000 L.A. elementary school teachers had added to their classes, based on test scores, I knew how to test the validity of their project. I have spent much time in room 56 at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in L.A., where fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith has proved himself to be, in my view, the best classroom teacher in the country -- and certainly in his city.

Would the Times data back up Esquith's exceptional quality, obvious to the thousands of people who have visited his classroom and to the audiences who see his ethnic Hispanic and Korean 10-year-olds produce and perform a Shakespeare play each year?

The Times released its ratings of all those teachers over the weekend. Fortunately for the paper, their numbers put Esquith in the top category: highly effective. He didn't make the newspaper's top 100 teacher list, but I know from extensive personal experience that such rankings cannot measure precisely all the qualities that make a good educator, or that make a good school. The newspaper gave the same highly effective rating to Esquith's school, and to several of his colleagues there.

As I expected, Esquith isn't doing much celebrating. He doesn't think he needs test scores to show what he can do. He is also suspicious of any measure that relies on the results of tests that, at least at his school, are not independently supervised. At Hobart, as well as at many other L.A. schools, only the classroom teacher, with an obvious interest in getting good scores, serves as proctor.

Esquith told me he is happy that no good teacher at his school received a bad rating from the Times. But he said some mediocre teachers were rated more highly than they deserved.

"Hobart is rated as effective," Esquith wrote in an e-mail. "That is not the case. Most of the kids do not read well. And they certainly do not read unless told to do so. . . . This survey is too limited. I wish it could point out that my students know more history than adults, and are very proud to be Americans. I wish the survey measured their ability in speaking English and playing music. And of course, their ability to score a baseball game."

I have been collecting other reactions to the L.A. Times articles and data. I think the newspaper has done a great service by showing conclusively that schools should not be rated by their overall test score averages --- more of a measure of family incomes, not of good teaching. Some schools in poor neighborhoods (such as Hobart Boulevard) have terrific teachers like Esquith who produce great gains in achievement, and some schools in rich neighborhoods have bad teachers that do the opposite.

But there are many other wise takes on what is going on. I recommend, for instance, this long post by award-winning Prince George's County social studies teacher Ken Bernstein. He analyzes a new Economic Policy Institute briefing paper on using test scores to evaluate teachers. He mentions research relevant to the L.A. Times project. "One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20 percent of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40 percent," he noted.

Another fine teacher I know well, Chris Peters, works in California, but not Los Angeles. He says the Times has exposed an unmet need:

"In 10 years at my high school, I can honestly say I have no idea who the stars are. I know teachers who are popular among kids, and I know teachers who teach seemingly awesome lessons. But I have no objective knowledge of which teachers are producing results and which aren’t. More to the point, neither I nor any other teacher I work with has any idea whether or not we ourselves are producing any results compared with other teachers. We only know the isolated outputs of our students while they are in our classrooms, totally divorced from any larger context that would give those outputs meaning. Only value-added analysis does this. In my years of teaching, neither I nor any teacher I have known has ever had a single meaningful, objective evaluation of their teaching outcomes; nor have we been given the means to objectively evaluate our performance ourselves. Tell what other profession that is like this?"

The writers of the Times series have been very prompt in responding to questions I've raised about the difficulties of fairly measuring how much value teachers add in schools where most students already start at a high level. I complained that one of the high-income schools their report made rated as inadequate, Wilbur Elementary, did not do so badly. Reading scores dropped only 3 percentile points, from 79 to 76, from second to fifth grade; and math dropped only 10, from 77 to 67. Wilbur students still achieved at a relatively high level.

Times reporter Doug Smith said other schools with similar high-income families did much better, showing that Wilbur had the potential to improve. At my request, he sent some examples. Wonderland Elementary went from 82 to 87 in reading and from 70 to 84 in math, quite impressive. Another example, Clover Elementary, had a smaller jump, from 77 to 79 in reading and from 73 to 76 in math.

This will not be the last word on what the Times has done. Its results will affect the debate over rating teachers for years. I don't think rating individual teachers this way, publicly, is a good idea. It hurts efforts to turn a school's teachers into an effective team. But I do think rating schools this way makes sense. The debate helps my thinking and raises the discussion to a new level. It also gave me a good excuse to talk to Esquith, one of the delights of my job.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | August 31, 2010; 12:56 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Testing L.A. Times teacher assessment project, but Esquith still thinks the Times project has problems, he does, many mediocre teachers at his school get high scores, will America's best teacher Rafe Esquith do well  
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"One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20 percent of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40 percent," he noted.

Only value-added analysis does this. In my years of teaching, neither I nor any teacher I have known has ever had a single meaningful, objective evaluation of their teaching outcomes; nor have we been given the means to objectively evaluate our performance ourselves.

The usual with Jay Mathews where he simply ignores a study that shows using test results to evaluate teachers is invalid by presenting the opinion of a single teacher of how wonderful this is for teachers.

Valerie Strauss gives us :
Study blasts popular teacher evaluation method
Nonetheless, there is broad agreement among statisticians, psychometricians, and economists that student test scores alone are not sufficiently reliable and valid indicators of teacher effectiveness to be used in high-stakes personnel decisions, even when the most sophisticated statistical applications such as value-added modeling are employed.

Meanwhile Jay Mathews gives us a single teacher that he knows that is willing to ignore the statisticians, psychometricians, and economists.

I guess we should all believe the world is flat if Jay Mathews tells us he knows of a teacher that believes the world is flat,

Posted by: bsallamack | August 31, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

A third article on "research" is so flawed that no one who has ever taken a class in social science research methods would lend it any credibility at all. But just a passing mention of peer-reviewed research that debunks it. Just stick to the uninformed anecdotes. After all, an uninformed opinion is worth more that all the scientific research in the world.

Posted by: mcstowy | August 31, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

A third article on "research" is so flawed that no one who has ever taken a class in social science research methods would lend it any credibility at all. But just a passing mention of peer-reviewed research that debunks it. Just stick to the uninformed anecdotes. After all, an uninformed opinion is worth more that all the research in the world.

Posted by: mcstowy | August 31, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I was a bit hard on you yesterday, lets face it, I think Rhee represents everything that is wrong with educational reform, you seem to have a different opinion. A few generations ago my AP English teacher posed the question to the class " Who is the best in the world at....." The whole point was that the best runner in the world was some guy we had never heard of who was a great runner but would never make the world stage. The same is true in teaching. Your best teacher in America is probably pretty darn good. But please accept the reality that you have no clue if someone in BF North Dakota is a whole lot better. And in the end what is the point. You have endorsed a political solution to the educational problems of America, you need a hero/poster child. The truth is way different, in fact hidden by your agenda. If educational improvement is REALLY you agenda please listen.....before it's too late

Posted by: mamoore1 | August 31, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse


thanks for doing good reporting. Thanks also for making my day testerday when you wrote that you need to get used to writing about Rhee in the past tense. I also noted a couple of data-driven accountability hawks from Gates camp, Goldhaber and Walsh, opposed the naming of names. And Duncan seems to be wiggling back from his headlined support of the Times. If we can just agree to exhibit common decency as we fight things out, then even those of us who are tired of the belligerency of the "reformers" will not need to counter-attack so much. I'm hoping that as we see the logical extension of scorched earth politics, people will pull back and settle for compromises.

Posted by: johnt4853 | August 31, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

In case you were curious and haven't read it yet, I recommend reading their methods paper. They explain (in a way they didn't and couldn't in the articles) how they measured.

Posted by: BruinGirl2001 | August 31, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

thanks to johnt4853 for the nice words, and to mamoore1, I dont think you were too hard on me, but I think people do get confused on where I am coming from, since I remain a reporter even tho I play this opinionizer role. I haven't endorsed a political solution to education in America. Nowhere will you see me say the mayor-controlled school board is best, or that all school districts should hire people like Michelle Rhee. What I do is look for what works, and then describe it as best I can when I find it. You get a very mixed message with me. I like what Rafe Esquith does, as you see above, but I also like KIPP and Deb Meier and Doris Jackson. They are all quite different, but they all fall into the very non-political path to good schools that I have outlined often. Find the best principal possible, in most cases someone who has been a great teacher and knows great teaching, and give that person the power to form a team of teachers who work together to help kids improve. What I like about readers of this blog is that they all share the desire to help kids improve (altho I grant you some feel that is not possible for all kids), and are willing to consider different ways to go about it.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 31, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to BruinGirl201. Both the methodology piece written by the reporters and the technical paper written by their Rand consultant are interesting. The Times people apparently did not consult the Rand guy before they decided to publish the individual teacher names.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 31, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Jay, how did you determine that your teacher was the "Best in America"

Posted by: mamoore1 | August 31, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse


The "Best Teacher" in Boston or Chicago, Brooklyn, Miami, Helena, Oklahoma City, the US, etc. is divisive, at best. All it does is cause a great deal of resentment and pi$$es people off. BTW; have you actually been in every classroom in America to make this determination? You missed mine. I find this kind of post offensive.

Teaching Like Your Hair Is On Fire - I found quite boring, and VERY grandstandish.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 31, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I call them like I see them. I have spent three decades interviewing and reading about teachers, looking for the best, just as I have with schools. With high schools, I have a numerical measure, a great advantage in debates. But I think I know enough to make a well informed judgment about Esquith. It is a provocative thing to say something is the best. It inspires arguments, as phoss1 rightly points out, but I think such quarrels are very useful, particularly on a blog about schools and teachers. I would much prefer to talk about who is the best teacher, and how you measure that, than about who is the best chef or the best quarterback or the best singer on American Idol.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 31, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

In other words, if you know of a better teacher, tell us about her or him, and why you think so.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 31, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Many years ago, 60 Minutes did a segment about a really poor, crime-ridden part of Harlem. They were trying to find out why a handful of people managed to make it out and become successful people with stable families. They looked at factors like income, family stability, welfare, Headstart participation, and many other social/economic factors.

The only thing they all had in common was that they had the same first grade teacher, and many credited her with getting them off to a solid start in school.

This was an older woman who spent her life in the classroom. She did not grandstand, run around with a baseball bat, perform hip-hop raps, or enter contests to prove anything. She just quietly did her job by paying attention to what each child needed and by expecting them to do their best while providing them with a safe, reliable daily routine.

Every district has teachers like her. But these days, if they don't provide "added value" and are too old, they are deemed unfit to teach.

And she managed to have such a positive impact on those kids without constantly measuring and testing.

Posted by: aed3 | August 31, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

It does seem to me that paying attention to the students' individual needs, both emotional and academic is less interesting but more important than entertaining classroom visitors.

Posted by: celestun100 | August 31, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I agree with aed3 and celestun100. The dog and pony show teachers are nauseating.

Posted by: phoss1 | August 31, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

My apologies to phoss1, celestun100 and others. My inflated ego assumes you have read every word I have written about Esquith. google my name and his if you want a dose, or look at the chapters in Work Hard. Be Nice. about him. But he would warmly agree with you about attending to students personal needs. It is the hours he devotes doing that that I have been unable to find anyone else matching. He arrives at the school about 630am (I saw this.) and usually stays 12 hours or so. He is usually there on weekends, and never takes a vacation. He opens the classroom year round. Go into room 56 and often there are 60 kids stuffed in, half of them former students back to visit and get help, which he gives to all, in getting through high school and preparing for college. His collection of letters is amazing. He meets your good standard and exceeds it by far. He admits he is partly insane to do this, but the number of lives he has affected for the better is enormous. The visitors are incidental. We come because we have never seen anything like it but I would like to hear about more teachers like that.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 31, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Jay- I that what Esquith does really great. I've read his book and I think he is truly wonderful. I especially like what he says about working around administrators.

I'm not taking away from anything he does. It's just that I get the feeling you think less of teachers who don't have the time to spend 12 hours a day, work weekends, and never take a day off.

Posted by: aed3 | August 31, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse


When you chose to describe Mr. Esquith as "the best classroom teacher in the country", you fell into the same flawed mindset as those at US News who publish the "Best Colleges and Universities". I am sure the Mr. Esquith is an outstanding educator who is very effective with the students in his school. However, you do not have a valid basis for comparing him with teachers who teach very different grade levels, subject areas, or students with very different backgrounds. The teaching methods that work well in his classroom may or may not be effective in other settings. Also, our society's fixation on rankings, simplistic statistics, and stories that distill complex issues into a single number, a short phrase (e.g. "adequate yearly progress") or a 30 second soundbite on the nightly news, often result in a very incomplete and frequently misleading explanation of an issue. The value-added methodology described in the LA Times relies on data from a particular form of assessment (standardized multiple choice exams) that most educators would agree have important limitations. While those exams provide some useful metrics on student achievement, I am sure that Mr. Esquith's contribution to the academic and social development of his students is not fully captured by this data. Please don't contribute to the oversimplification syndrome.

Posted by: seshapiro1 | August 31, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I can assure you with 100% certainty that the best teacher in America is someone whose name you will never hear, much less print. That teacher shuns publicity because it gets in the way of what really matters. Sometimes just quietly doing you job very very well is best after all.

You have a powerful tool with a regular feature in a national publication. Use it well for a greater good.

Posted by: mamoore1 | August 31, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

OK - let;s all agree he's "one" of the best teachers in America. The reason you identify the "best" is so that it can be emulated. I seriously doubt it is only about the hours he puts in...

I have won many teaching awards. Each one turned out to have negative connotations with my fellow teachers. It's too bad the profession is like that. If the teacher has style and grace and finds what works, he/she should not be accused of showboating. The responses to Jay's article prove that jealousy is a huge factor in education.

What I liked about the responses of this teacher was his honesty about overrated teachers though I worry his comment implies that teachers will alter test scores at his school if not monitored.

Posted by: hotrod3 | August 31, 2010 11:47 PM | Report abuse

"Would the Times data back up Esquith's exceptional quality, obvious to the thousands of people who have visited his classroom and to the audiences who see his ethnic Hispanic and Korean 10-year-olds produce and perform a Shakespeare play each year?"

Jay, you'd never let anything as pesky as facts get in the way of a good opinion!

I have never thought Esquith was anything all that fantastic, mostly because I can't imagine anyone thinking that fifth graders producing Shakespeare is some sort of obvious standard of excellence instead of a forced middlebrow talking point.

If I needed any other indication, Esquith's criteria for a good teacher (resulting in kids knowing how to score a baseball game, liking music--preferably Beethoven, no doubt!--and liking to read) are pretty absurd.

I am, as always, shocked by the people who, like Esquith, would casually suggest that most teachers cheat. That's simply repulsive. To say nothing of moronic--we'd have much better scores if teachers were cheating.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | September 1, 2010 1:37 AM | Report abuse


The problem with this column is the same problem we have with evaluating teachers today - it's subjective. It's your opinion, and you're not even a professional educator. Exacerbating this opinion is the fact that you're an educational columnist for one of the three or four most renowned publications in the country. That makes your view even more offensive.

Again, if you haven't been in every classroom in the country and spent an equal amount of time evaluating every teacher, your "opinion" becomes VERY divisive.

Suppose a principal of Dogood Elementary School had made a similar announcement. Ms Smith is the "best" teacher in the building. True or not, what does that do for the other forty or fifty professionals in the building, many of whom do their best every day? And by exactly what objective criteria is Ms Smith declared the "best?"

Come on! Wake up and recognize the error of your ways.

Posted by: phoss1 | September 1, 2010 5:32 AM | Report abuse

Best of anything is always subjective. It's good to know that there are teachers out there that receive high praise from the communities they serve and more importantly their students. Local magazines like the Washingtonian do articles on the best doctors, lawyers, caterers etc. They should start doing the same for teachers and principals.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | September 1, 2010 7:56 AM | Report abuse

When do we start holding parents responsible? Until that happens, far too many American public schools will continue to get dismal results.

Posted by: thebink | September 1, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

For phoss1--there is a big difference between a principal declaring who is the best teacher and a columnist declaring who is the best teacher in the country. The former can hurt morale of other teachers at that school severely, since the principal has the power to discipline, reward and in some cases fire people. (This is one reason why I don't like individual teacher merit pay---it hurts teamwork.) I have no such powers, and it is obvious to intelligent readers, of which we have nothing else but on this blog, that this is just my opinion, with no consequences for anyone. It is easy to shrug off what I say, which is good. But if it gets people thinking and writing about what makes a good teacher, such as our discussion here of the importance to classroom dramatics versus attention to each child, then I think it is good. One of my jobs here is to promote discussion. One way columnists do that is to voice opinions, and I think unconventional ones are particularly useful. If you have any examples of harm I, rather than responsible educators, can do with my views on who is the best teacher in America, let us know.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

for Cal--Esquith didnt say most teachers cheat. He said the lack of independent exams proctors increased the possibility of cheating. We know some teachers cheat on exams. The LA Times several years ago discovered that the teachers unions in California were defending about 200 teachers on charges of cheating, and we have had newspapers in Dallas and Atlanta report recently on what appear to be clear cases of cheating. I have run across a few myself. The number of cheaters is very few. A Chicago study by the Freakonomics guys suggested no more than 6 percent, but it is an issue, particularly when you direct much attention to individual teacher test results, as the Times has done.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

for aed3--- I do NOT think less of teachers who do their jobs while leading normal lives. That is why I often mention, when I write about Esquith, his view that his hours show he is not really sane, and I think on one level that is true. Nobody complained about journalists calling Michael Jordan the best basketball player in America, based on a similarly incredible work ethic that none of us, including most of the NBA, could ever match. So I don't see why I can't say I think Esquith is the MJ of teaching. I have dedicated my work life the last three decades to getting more attention for teachers. I write more about teachers than any other journalist. And if that produces good discussion about whether a teacher needs to work 12 hours a day to be great, that is good. I personally don't believe such hours are necessary, or advisable. Most of the great teachers I have written about have families and rich personal lives. When I have enough space, such as in book, I make a point of describing what they do in their off hours.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 1, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Seems every time you names the educators you respect, they all have one thing in common, they spend most of their time tooting their own horns. I guess that makes Chad Ochocinco the bast football player and Glenn Beck the best reporter.

Now to the real reason for his post: A reasonably balanced report on the Value-Added testing fad from, (where else?) the New York Times. You may want to read it, as well as the comments, which are far more thoughtful than most of what passes for "reporting" on education in other media.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 1, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

And now for a glimpse into the assignments given by the teachers who are clearly not America's best. My neighbor's child came home with an English assignment from Wilson High School yesterday. It was a worksheet. She was required to fill in two characteristics of each central character in the novel that was assigned (e.g., brave, honest, weak, etc.)

Are you kidding me? This is 3rd grade work, not 9th grade. This has nothing to do with the parents in DC not being involved. This has everything to do with low expectations and phoning-it-in teachers. No wonder kids graduate from DCPS unprepared for college.

Posted by: trace1 | September 1, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Jay, I'm well aware of the various cheating scandals, made all the more obvious because they are relatively rare.

Which is not to say I disagree with ending teacher proctored tests--not because I'm worried they'll cheat, but because it's expensive. Why not send the kids to an auditorium and give the teachers three furlough days off?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | September 1, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

And now for a glimpse into the assignments given by the teachers who are clearly not America's best. My neighbor's child came home with an English assignment from Wilson High School yesterday. It was a worksheet. She was required to fill in two characteristics of each central character in the novel that was assigned (e.g., brave, honest, weak, etc.)

Are you kidding me? This is 3rd grade work, not 9th grade. This has nothing to do with the parents in DC not being involved. This has everything to do with low expectations and phoning-it-in teachers. No wonder kids graduate from DCPS unprepared for college.

Posted by: trace1

Wait! Haven't you read the Post? Wilson's principal Pete Cahall is Rhee's handpicked, New Leaders for New Schools true believer. He's PERFECT! And now that he has purged Wilson of all the heretics (granted, they had the highest AP pass rates in the city, but they didn't BELIEVE), Wilson is perfect! Since Cahall gerts to hand-pick his teaching staff of true believers, this teacher MUST BE PERFECT! What is WRONG with you? You must have FAITH in Cahall, Rhee and Fenty. If you question your faith, you (we) are DOOMED!

Posted by: mcstowy | September 1, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I know I've told this story before on the blogosphere, but it bears retelling now:

Quite a few years ago I was a fifth grade teacher in a low-income suburb of Los Angeles. The school where I taught was the poorest in the district. I couldn't help but notice that the other fifth grade teacher had much higher test scores than I did. This concerned me greatly, so I tried to find out what she was doing that I wasn't. I questioned her and observed her lessons, but I couldn't find anything substantially superior to what I was doing. One day this teacher came into my room to announce that she had been promoted to principal. She presented me with a box of her "stuff" and told me I could keep it.

As soon as I got home I excitedly opened the box and pulled out the contents. At the bottom was a Xeroxed copy of the standardized test. I finally had my answer!

Of course, most teachers do not cheat but some do. Did the Los Angeles Times laud the best teachers or did they single out the people who drilled the children on the test? We don't know and neither do they.

Now that these tests are being used for "high stakes," teachers must insist that they be proctured by people outside the school. Yes, this would be expensive, but if a school can't afford to protect the validity of a test, then it can't afford to give it, or to use it for "high stakes."

Some teachers in Los Angeles have been unfairly branded as "ineffective" based on a test that is likely invalid. It's just a matter of time before this becomes obvious to everyone. The Los Angeles Times has committed a grave and shameful act for the sole purpose of shoring up lagging sales.

Beleaguered teachers can be comforted by these words of Martin Luther King , "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Jay, the reporters have never commented on the circumstances surrounding the administration of the test. Do they even realize that the test is handled and administered by the classroom teacher without proctors?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 1, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I'll bet the best teacher in America knows that there are two G's in "struggle." See front page.

Posted by: mattintx | September 1, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Check the headline on the frontpage, struggle is spelled with two g's, not as "Strugle".

Posted by: IraqVet1 | September 1, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

"Class Strugle: America's best teacher"

In an article about education? Come on!

Posted by: IraqVet1 | September 1, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Food for thought.

Let us pretend that this "method" is valid.

This means that, as the supporters of the "method" claim, previous test results can be used to accurately indicate the future scores of a student. Remember the "method" is claimed to be totally accurate since the "method" according to the supporters can be used to fire teachers simply based upon test results of students.

The supporters claims that the "method" will be accurate in indicating teachers that are below average, average, or superior.

Let us take teacher A who is superior based upon previous test results. Three students of teacher A fail the test at the end of the year of the class of teacher A.

Based upon the "method" these three students will continuously fail in the future. They had a proven superior teacher and they failed. Remember we have accepted that the "method" is accurate in indicating future scores of students for below average, average, and superior teachers. The "methods" accurately indicates that future scores of the three students that failed with superior teacher A will be failure no matter the teacher these students have for the next year.

So if the "method" is valid it can not only be used to get rid of below average teachers, but could also be used to stop wasting public funds on students that the accurate "method" indicates will always fail in the future.

If we know students that will fail in the next year will fail no matter what teacher they have, then they always must fail in following years.

Instead of expensive teachers these students can all be identified and placed in rooms that are overseen by minimum wage workers. No need to do any further expensive testing on these students and it is far better to simply cheaply warehouse them until they no longer have to attend the public schools.

In fact all children entering the 1st grade can be given proven superior teachers. Those children that fail the test after a year with these superior teachers can simply be designated for cheap warehousing.

Time for Americans that are always looking for quick fixes to understand the nonsense of a "method" and supporters that pretend that present test scores can accurately indicate future test scores. A test score only indicates the test score of a student for a given test. It is as simple as that.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 1, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I am so glad that spending a lot of time with one teacher allows him to be judged as the best in the city and probably the country. In re the Jordan argument, nba players are on public display at least 82 times a year; how many pet teacher did matthews adopt to make such an absurd generalization about Esquith? He may indeed be wonderful, but his argument is akin to noting that becaue my wife came from a single parent, sexually abusive, drug infested environment as a child, but went on to earn a Ph.D that her background is the ideal for anyone wishing to earn a doctorate in Economics.

Posted by: george32 | September 1, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Does Hobart have a school library with a credentialed school librarian?
Or do they just "teach" reading and expect the kids to care?

Posted by: richardguy1 | September 1, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

There seems to be a mindset among many teachers that if one person is singled out as excellent at his/her job, that is somehow a great insult to everyone else in the profession.

I don't see physicists getting upset when someone says Steven Hawking is among the world's best physicists. I don't see writers getting offended if someone says Junot Diaz is better than the average hack. So why do some teachers take it as such a personal insult to hear that this Esquith guy is considered good?

I heard an NPR story the other day about "teacher coaching" where excellent and experienced teachers shared some of their techniques and approaches with other teachers in their school. That seemed like a great idea. Who wouldn't welcome learning from a pro?

Posted by: wrybread | September 1, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

wrybread said
"There seems to be a mindset among many teachers that if one person is singled out as excellent at his/her job, that is somehow a great insult to everyone else in the profession."

It's because too often the subtext is that anyone who doesn't perform the same way as the "best" teacher is deficient and needs to be criticized. You don't hear anyone saying that physicists who don't come up with groundbreaking theories are incompetent or lazy or inferior to Hawking. Often the comparison does indeed become a personal insult.

People like Esquith are truly inspiring. But I personally don't have the time to spend 12 hours a day and weekends teaching. My family needs me more than a schedule like that would allow.

Posted by: aed3 | September 1, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse


Another point--I spent all day today at a school inservice during which a lot of teachers shared great ideas. We do this all the time, or at least as often as we have a chance. Just because we don't write books about it or end up winning contests doesn't mean it isn't going on.

Posted by: aed3 | September 1, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

So Esquith spends 13 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, at school working? (You said he never takes a vacation.) And this is part of what makes him great? Does he have a family? If so, I would say that he is seriously neglecting his responsibilities to his own wife and children. Is it alright that they never see him, that he does not nurture his marriage, that he helps the students in his classroom, but never reads to his own children at home?

Perhaps he is not in a family relationship: a loner who helps the students, but has not learned how to have close, intimate, loving family relationships of his own. How healthy is that? Is this the model you wish other teachers to emulate? Do you want his students to grow up and model that? Catholic priests are forbidden to marry as they must be married to the church. Is that what you require-total denial of self-being married to the job of martyr educator?

I am an old teacher and have developed several illnesses. I cannot spend all my hours being a martyr. Balance in life is necessary. My wife needs some of my attention. My child needs my help with her own homework. I must exercise in order that I not die from heart disease or stroke. I must sleep to restore my body.

One must not be a martyr to be an outstanding teacher. Parents of motivated and successful students love me. Parents of the poorly motivated do not, as I refuse to allow mediocrity. My value added statistics are very high. I usually have over 90% of my students advance full ranking on standardized tests and almost 50% advance two. Almost never do they drop. I usually have several in each class who make perfect scores on their state tests (and I certainly do not cheat). I am not at an affluent school; we qualify for Title 1. You have never heard of me as I usually seek not to draw attention to myself. I only state these things to point out that one need not martyr himself to teach well.

You have never been in the classrooms of 99.999% of teachers, yet you assume to have the wisdom to pronounce who is the greatest teacher of all? That is extremely arrogant, Mr. Mathews. You think far too much of yourself. I am glad that my child never had you as an instructor during your very limited teaching career. If you think teaching requires such sacrifice, why did you, yourself, abandon the cause? You did, you know.

Posted by: tharriso | September 1, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Teachers invest in students. And vica versa. Most Americans believe that the country is still in a recession, and at risk of worse, following high rates of return on investment, as estimated by economists, the same breed selling Value Added Measurement (VAM). Educational statisticians were technically capable of doing this for the last fifty years and shunned the practice as fraught as Star Wars missle deffence.)

Why the first sentences, above? Because as in investment, there's at least one other parameter that's very important: risk. Risk of greatness as well as of terrible failures in many guises. Think deadly side effects from promising medications. (Well, as promised by Pharma.)

Who supposes the VAM calculators have given the least thought to dropping out, drug-abuse, depression....or arousal of genuine intellectual interest? Several blog posts back, Jay, you didn't see my point in bringing up competitive school athletics. I'll repeat it: The abuses of coaches in pursuit of their own ends, using students to achieve them, are better recognized than the abuses of teachers to maximize VAM measurements... or in DC favorable ratings on IMPACT. So great are the perils to students, theres an extensive body of rules to control the conduct of instruction / practice. Unfortunately, we haven't seen that regulation yet in response to VAM.

I remember a dedicated PTA president / parent at one of DCPS's "best" schools who wouldn't acknowledge the risk a highly regarded teacher put students to until her own second child was on anti-depressents before he was seven to get through the school week. The child was off meds immediately after his mother enrolled him at a different school on advice of a consulting psychologist who visited the "best' school classroom. Several adult faces saved and one (high family income) child spared.

Posted by: incredulous | September 3, 2010 3:06 AM | Report abuse

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