Monday, December 15, 2008

The Quarterback Problem and Great Teachers

Malcolm Gladwell begins his story on teacher accredition and classroom performance with the football quarterback analogy.

Remember Ryan Leaf? Bombed out of the NFL in abject disgrace? Who would have predicted it? That's the quaterback problem, according to Gladwell, and he suggests that schools and unions - if they want great teachers - should want less teacher credentialing and more in-class opportunity. That is, the current gatekeeping system - backed by unions to maintain "quality control" - likely results in lousier teachers:
This is the quarterback problem. There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching.
Folks who are big labor types can't stand a powerful argument like this if it means weakening the dead grip of union mediocrity on teaching (or in this case, these types just don't know when a powerful arugment hits them upside the head anyway).

A note that Gladwell overlooks, however: The academic skills level is so low in some cases - especially among black and Hispanic students, unfortunately - that lowering certification requirements might actually grant apprenticeships to young people who literally can't read.

Other than that, I love the idea of finding the stars. Teaching is extremely personality driven. All the training and credentials in the world sometimes don't mean squat when the instructor can't reach through and pull a teachable moment from hat when necessary.

See Joanne Jacobs for an intelligent discussion of Gladwell's article, "Finding the Best Teachers."


Anonymous said...

"these types just don't know when a powerful arugment hits them upside the head anyway)."

Go ahead and correct the typo if you want, but if you delete the comment out of some sort of petulance, you should know that I already have a screen grab. I mean, if you're going to pretend like I don't have an "arugment" and refuse to address it, you ought to at least check your spelling, Mr. Pro-Victory Professor.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

The other problem is that it normally takes three years for a teacher to really hit their stride. Sometimes you can tell right away if a new teacher is going to make it or not, but for the vast majority, it takes time.