As an education network with thousands of students around the country, we're always keeping our finger on the pulse of education news and commentary. Below I share my thoughts on the re-airing of the Freakonomic's Radio Podcast that hit a few important nerves as regards getting to the heart of the underperformance of the American education system:
The Freakonomics podcast, "Is America's Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem" that re-aired a few weeks ago is both heartening and at the last, somewhat disappointing.
Heartening, as I have known few educators, deeply rooted in the classroom, that do not believe that the quality of a learning culture is determined by the quality of teachers in the classroom. That is not mere self-regard, but comes from the long experience of watching educational fads come and go. I usually measure the impact of fads, not in the positive, but the negative: how little harm was done to the intellectual vitality of the classroom and the excitement teachers and students felt each day as the work of learning and teaching began. The message of the podcast, “we have not an education problem, but a teacher problem”, is refreshing amidst the bustle and distraction of education reformers chasing bright shiny objects.
The quick history of the profession is worth a listen all in itself, for it neatly explains why teaching, despite all pious declarations to the contrary, has never been accepted as a profession in America. Gender roles and the economics of the compulsory education market in the 19th century, and the smothering embrace of the trades unions in the 20th, have ensured we now have a teaching corps in the United States that is, as a corporate body, unimpressive.
Yet the piece does not rest content with bashing teachers. Teachers are trained within a certain system, hired for certain qualities, and asked to do a particular job. It is hard to blame teachers for a clearly broken training system and the podcast does a good job of exploring this systemic failure.
I wish that it had pressed further on analyzing the impossible expectations that we now lay upon our teachers. Put simply, we ask too much of them, and then have no credible way of measuring their success.
If educating the young is too important to leave to charity work, if we want to attract smart and driven men and women into the classrooms, we have to create a professional culture. A part of that is offering professional wages. But salary is not the whole game. A professional culture depends upon a culture that balances autonomy with accountability. Educators love to talk about autonomy, the passion of the great teacher for their discipline and for their students. But when we turn to accountability, suddenly analytical precision wavers and energy flags.
How do we measure good teaching? This is where the podcast closes and that is par for the education course. No single metric can capture the nature of a complex, co-creative organism like a good classroom learning culture, but surely measuring teacher success by student learning results is not a bad place to begin. Which raises perhaps a question for another podcast: why does such a measurement inspire such resistance?
We're looking forward to sharing more perspectives and reviews of education news. For our next post directly in your inbox, subscribe to our blog. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below: