Match made in heaven?
If only we could attract effective teachers to high-poverty schools, we could zap the achievement gap. That’s the thinking, at least, behind a slew of reassignment programs that use everything from financial incentives to blunt force to get more top-notch teachers into lower-performing classrooms. But is the thinking itself misguided? Kirabo Jackson, a Cornell economist, recently found that effectiveness was as tied to environment as it was to practice. In other words, a highly-effective teacher in one school might not be so effective in another. Furthermore, what if the distribution of good teachers is not really as skewed as we think? Indeed, as Eric Hanushek explains, interschool variation in teacher effectiveness is much smaller than intraschool teacher effectiveness, when measured as the impact a teacher has on her students’ achievement. So making Herculean efforts to move teachers from one school to another might be a big waste of time; a better approach would be to exit the low-performers of all schools. Here’s the bottom line: reassignment schemes, like many things in education, might have worthy intentions but could also do more harm than good.
“New Teacher Distribution Methods Hold Promise,” by Stephen Sawchuck, Education Week, June 10, 2010
“Cincinnati Public Schools to put top teachers at weak schools,” by Jessica Brown, Cincinnati Enquirer, June 14, 2010