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August 04, 2009
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Core Knowledge and Joanne Jacobs both picked up on a blog this week by Linda Perlstein, who says that Obama is "wrong" to suggest that teachers are the single most important factor related to student achievement. Perlstein points out that this is accurate only in that "of the various factors inside school, teacher quality has had more effect on student test scores than any other that has been measured."
I don't think it's fair to suggest that Obama has misrepresented the evidence. He didn't say "of all things measured and non-measured on the earth, teacher quality is the most important." Of course not everything has been measured, but do you expect the president to include that nuance in a 20 minute speech? Moreover -I don't see the point in asking policymakers or politicians to clarify that teacher quality is just an "inside school" factor (which actually Obama did mention in the quote Perlstein uses).?? Of course we're only talking about inside school factors. Those touting teacher quality as a critical factor to student achievement are not claiming it's paramount to everything else, ever --just that it's the most important factor thus far that we've measured, and that we actually have some degree of control over.
And, given how much public money we spend on teachers (their salaries and benefits make up about 80 percent of districts' overall budgets) should we really be surprised when politicians talk about teacher quality and not the zillion other factors potentially affecting children but not paid for with so much taxpayer money?
I'd have to agree with a comment on Joanne Jacobs' blog that says:
"I don't see that the line of argument, "family background matters more," is very productive. Maybe it has a great influence, but it's outside the realm of government control, as it should be."
Exactly. School districts and politicians and education leaders are limited in what they can do to impact the overwhelming conglomeration of all other factors affecting kids. Obama's comments weren't "wrong." They just didn't include a lengthy and unnecessary explanation/review of all teacher quality literature, which distracts from the main point that teacher quality is something we know has a great impact on students, that we can actually move the needle on, and that we are justified in wishing to reform given the enormous amount of public dollars we invest in teachers.