Monday, October 8, 2012

Vote Yes for Teachers

We were in Chicago over the weekend for my nephew's wedding and drove through the town of Galena, Illinois on the way back.  The most lovely little town!!  Beautiful old historic buildings . . . I wanted to move into the bed and breakfast and spend a week.  I saw a couple signs as we drove through that were encouraging the locals to vote yes for Galena schools.  The schools want money for something or other, apparently.

As we continued our long drive, I considered what the money was likely to be used for.  A new building.  Updating an old building.  Technology.  A football stadium.  That's usually what the schools promote when they want more money -- a capital investment.  Something immediately visible to the consumer.

But it made me think of a quote I just read from Bill Bennett, former education secretary:

“The research on this is fascinating: there’s a ton.  It’s not class size.  It’s certainly not facilities.  It’s not technology.  It’s the quality of the adult in front of the classroom.  The research is clear; you are much better off in a bad school with a good  teacher than a supposedly really good school with a bad teacher.  If you take kids from the 50th percentile in the third grade, and you give them a teacher everyone regards as excellent, in two years they’ll be at the 85 percentile.  You give them a teacher everyone regards as not very good, in two years they’ll be in the 35th percentile.”
I wonder if a school district told its constituents that they wanted more money strictly to spend on teachers -- to attract better quality teachers, to train its current teachers, to pay the legal costs of getting rid of bad teachers -- never mind the old facilities, forget about the athletics programs, worry later about a computer lab . . . I wonder how well that would go over.  Unfortunately, I don't think it would go over well. 

And frankly, if I were living in the district, I would be a bit skeptical, too.  I would be skeptical that they would be able to recognize a quality teacher when they saw one to hire.  I would be skeptical that the teachers they train would have any motivation to improve rather than continue in the safe entropy of what they've always done.  I would be skeptical of the administration having the guts to actually identify bad teachers and root them out.  All that is much harder to do than it is to buy a batch of shiny new computers to show off to the parents.

But that's the stuff that would actually make a difference.

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