What matters in education

Nice piece from Dana Goldstein about Hillary Clinton represents a sharp break with Obama on education policy.  Personally, I think Obama was too hard on teacher unions, as are many reformers.  That said, I think there are certainly some problems with teachers unions that should be addressed (yes, it should be easier to hire bad teachers).  The thing is, though, remedying issues with teacher unions is probably not even in the top 15 items that would actually improve public education (sadly, so many reformers seem to somehow think it’s issue #1).  Anyway, here’s a nice succinct summary from Goldstein of what does matter:

Research demonstrates five major, measurable influences on student achievement: Every study shows that, by far, the biggest factor is the educational background and socioeconomic status of parents. In-school factors account for less than half of the variation in how students perform, but at least four are important:peers (a poor child will perform worse if most of his or her classmates are also living in poverty); school funding (districts with more money per pupil provide more resources that kids need, from social workers and guidance counselors to foreign language and art classes); gaps in teacher quality, which research suggests account for between 7 and 15 percent of the achievement gap between poor and middle-class children; and principals, the key figure whose leadership can replicate good teaching across classroom walls.

Yes, we want better teachers.  It matters.  I’ve written plenty on what we should do about that.  But worrying about teacher quality and incentives does not matter as much addressing broader socio-economic issues and eliminating schools of concentrated high poverty.  How about we stop obsessing on teacher’s unions, charter schools, etc., and work on these five things.  Radical, I know.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to What matters in education

  1. ohwilleke says:

    “addressing broader socio-economic issues”

    A lot of this is inherited IQ, personality and mental health characteristics which played a part in the parents socio-economic success and can’t be “addressed” in any form. The lion’s share of the rest of this factor happens prior to kindergarten, so K-12 educational institutions themselves can do nothing to address it.

    • R. Jenrette says:

      Quality child care for those pre-K kids who are in child care now or need to be would help.
      It also would help to reduce child poverty, at least put a floor under it, so our nation’s children are not as affected by the real consequences of that poverty.

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