Friday, June 24, 2011

The GREAT Teachers and Principals Act: Not a great idea

The Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies (GREAT) Teachers and Principals Act (H.R. 5218) promises to set up special academies with high admission standards, use "innovative" clinical approaches to teacher education, and focus on "achievement" (increasing test scores).

GREAT is based on a false premise, addresses a non-existent crisis, and ignores the real crisis.

The false premise: "Studies show that nothing makes a bigger difference to learning that great teaching." No. Out-of-school factors, especially poverty, have a much larger impact. The best teaching in the world will have little effect when children are hungry, in poor health, and have little or no access to reading material.

Non-existent crisis: There is no evidence of a serious crisis in teaching quality in the US. Studies show that American students from well-funded schools who come from middle-class families outscore students in nearly all other countries on international tests. Our average scores are less than spectacular because we have the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (over 20%; in contrast, high-scoring Finland has less than 4%).

The real crisis: What this means is that the "problem" with American education is not teaching quality but poverty. Poverty means inadequate nutrition, inadequate health care, exposure to environmental toxins, and little access to books, all of which are strongly associated with lower school performance.

We are all interested in improving teaching and school administration. There is, however, no evidence that our schools of education are failing and there is plenty of evidence that our first priority at this time must be to protect children from the effects of poverty:

This means

*"no child left unfed,"

* adequate health care for all children, and

* access to quality libraries.

We can do this for a fraction of the investment we are now eager to make in new standards, new tests, and high-sounding training academies.

If all of our children had the same advantages middle class children have, our test scores would be at the top of the world.

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