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Building The Better Teacher

Anyone interested in the future of D.C. public schools should take a look at Amanda Ripley's new piece in The Atlantic, posted Tuesday. Ripley, whose 2008 Time magazine profile of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee featured the now-legendary broom cover, reports on Teach for America's (TFA) painstaking attempts to isolate the attributes of character and mind that make a teacher great.

Ripley explores the data TFA has compiled on its 7,300 graduates, many recruited from top colleges, who are put through a five-week summer boot camp and sent to teach for a minimum of two years in low-income school systems. She writes that some of what TFA has learned about what makes great teachers is surprising and counterintuitive. Those with prior experience working in poor neighborhoods are not necessarily more effective than teachers new to that environment. Constant reflection on performance doesn't seem to matter as much as plain perseverance. Factors such as extracurricular college accomplishments are more predictive of effectiveness than once assumed. Teachers who frequently check for student understanding, who tightly choreograph their classes to leave not a minute of dead time, are more likely to produce higher achieving students.

A central figure in the piece is Kimball Elementary math teacher William Taylor, who raised the proportion of his fifth graders working at or above grade level from 40 percent to 90 percent in the 2008-09 school year. Taylor is not a TFA grad, but he brings to the classroom many of the attributes that TFA values.

The point is that this is also at the core of Michelle Rhee's vision for District schools and its teacher corps. Ripley notes that the handbook for DCPS' new IMPACT evaluation system looks "eerily similar" to the TFA model, no coincidence since Rhee and Jason Kamras, her top IMPACT aide, are both TFA alums.

--Bill Turque

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By Bill Turque  |  January 6, 2010; 5:26 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Bill Turque,Education , Education  
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Has Amanda Ripley written yet about what makes a better chancellor?

Posted by: resc | January 6, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I don't get it, the main reason a school succeeds or fails is it's leadership - so why are we always talking about making better teachers? Why not talk about making better leaders? Better and less corrupt administrators could vastly improve schools. Why not deal with the real issue of leadership, instead of the pretend issue of teacher quality?

Posted by: resc | January 6, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

According to the Atlantic article, Mr. Taylor also plans to get out of teaching and become an administrator after just 3 years in the classroom and such incredible success. So much for the kid’s math scores when he leaves.

Mr. Taylor - please consider staying in the classroom or at least becoming a mentor teacher so others can learn what makes you great. All your teaching skills will be wasted as an administrator.

Of course, Jason Kamras became teacher of the year and right-hand guy to Michelle Rhee even though math scores went down in the school where he was teaching math

So fabulous teaching success is obviously not needed to move ahead in the education hierarchy.

Posted by: efavorite | January 6, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Rhee supposedly didn't give up (atleast for 2 years).
She even ate an insect to impress her students.
Does this mean that her experience at Harlem Park, the what seems to be called "Baltimore Miracle", is true?

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | January 6, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

I read the entire article and found it remarkable that it spends so much time taking about how Teach For America operates yet the teacher the article featured was not in TFA. In fact he got his degree in education rather than doing the 2 month training stint that TFA offers to prepare teachers.

I also wish that Ripley would have delved into the issue of TFA teachers spending only two or three years in the classroom then jumping ship. From the many personal stories that I have read about TFA teachers most if not all have said they weren't effective in their first year. It is a cycle that should be seen as extremely problematic.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | January 6, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse

What a great article. A staff is usually a reflection of management, but how wonderful is it when you have a self motivated staff that breeds results regardless. Sounds like Mr. Taylor is an amazing teacher and mentor. You don't go from 40% to 90% by just talking numbers. He must have found a way to really reach his students. You work hard for someone you respect! Great job

Posted by: mrswilder | January 7, 2010 12:28 AM | Report abuse

Hey maybe Ms. Rhee can get some TIPS from Mr. Taylor, being she was an ineffective TEACHER! Mr. Taylor (3years)= Rhee (2 years). He Got you beat Rhee! How are your employees better skilled than you!!!!!

Posted by: twolovelove | January 7, 2010 12:52 AM | Report abuse

letsbereal2 - what we'll probably never know is if the writer of the Atlantic article searched unsuccessfully for a TFA star before choosing Mr. Taylor, knowing that most readers would lose the fact that he's not TFA, given the article is all about TFA. (Thanks to Bill Turque for pointing that out upfront.)

The article also discusses TFA's research on what makes a good teacher, without demonstrating that that teachers with these traits consistently have more highly achieving classes. But that's the subtle message.

Posted by: efavorite | January 7, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

As is reflected in Ms. Ripley's "Atlantic" piece, Teach For America are American education's "Scientologists", a parasitic cult slowly and steadily worming its way into the nation's public school systems. TFA presents an existential threat to our public schools in that its ultimate aim is to fill them with young missionaries posing for a couple of years as teachers and then suck the life from them when the order comes down from Wendy Kopp and the TFA's corporate backers.

You can only fully understand the presence of Michelle Rhee in DC by looking at it in the context of her association with TFA. When you do that, her shocking appointment as Chancellor of D.C. public schools suddenly makes complete sense. Rhee was brought in to inflict maximum damage on the district's public schools and its children. And as a cultist (Teach For America, New Teacher Project) and true believer she came at a bargain basement salary. Really qualified superintendents were courted (Fenty visited Miami with several members of the D.C. commission to interview Dr. Rudolph Crew) but those candidates would have asked questions. They could not be counted on to mindlessly take a club to D.C.'s public schools. The havoc and chaos that Rhee caused was no accident. It was the plan! The Teach For America plan!

Posted by: natturner | January 7, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I agree with many of the responses already given. Where is the documentation on the success of TFA graduates? How many stay in DC? How many stay in education? Continuity for our children is as important as intelligent teachers. What are the statistics on children taught by TFA graduates? A 5 week sales session with Amway-like euphoric pep talks certainly is not a guarantee for success in the classroom.

I am not against a group like TFA, but I don't believe it surplants good,basic educational theory, training and experience. Also, this has nothing to do with the overall problem that the current leadership assumes that experienced teachers are problems and only TFA teachers are positive for this City and its youth. Having had 3 children in DC public schools (1 currently still there) and a graduate of DC public schools, I support the best and brightest. Guess what? They were here before TFA was a thought! Unfortunately, most of them are now being pushed out. And who will help these novice TFA graduates who have no practical experience? That is what mentors (and experienced co-workers) are for?
I am sick and tired of the Post making excuses for this Chancellor and her tyranic methods. Any test successes from last year were primarily the result of the previous superintendent programs and the teachers that this leadership has now let go. However, I have not seen clear break-outs of where those test successes exist. By Ward, is every child benefiting? Did borderline schools see major test increases? What about failing schools? It is easy to manage successful schools. Ooops. Maybe not...I guess that is why this chancellor wants to "fix" the successful Hardy Middle School program! My oldest graduated from there prior to the new art program, but I was an advocate for such a special program. I can tell you, the neighbors who complained are uninformed and will be sorry for what they asked for!!!

Posted by: MYDKids | January 7, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Hats off to William Taylor! It is rare for a former DCPS graduate to return from wince he came and produce solid deliverables as it realtes to his chosen profession, and get the commendation befitting for his unyeilding loyalty, dedication and work ethic.

I am not an advocate of test models and fast track programs when it comes to the critical years in the lives of the development of our youth. What I respect and appreciate are professionals of the caliber of Mr. Taylor and colleagues of the like. We need not only highly educated teachers we need the profeesionals that care enough to spend the extra time, effort and most importantly have the patience required to get the results that Mr. Taylor has proven can be ascertained in DCPS.

Thank you Mr. Taylor and the FEW teachers that are to the benefit of our youth.

Posted by: rhondacrussell | January 7, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

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