I spent about an hour this morning slogging through an article by Dan Hanushek about the imperative of having good teachers. It's an intriguing read, in which he makes the case that having an excellent teacher will increase the expected lifetime earning by up to $400,000 per student. A lousy teacher, on the other hand, would have the opposite impact. While he allows that "The majority of teachers are hardworking and effective," he argues for renewed efforts to eliminate the least effective 5 to 10 percent. That, and merit pay.
Like I said, I spent about an hour with this thing. Then I taught a full day in a real classroom, where I tried to be excellent. I'm not sure the extent to which I increased the future earnings of my students, but I'd like to think I did some good.
After school got out I went to a meeting. There were seven of us in attendance. In addition to the other third grade teacher and myself, we had the principal, the psychologist, the math specialist, the reading specialist and the ELL specialist. We talked about our students. Our students. Not my students, not the other teacher's students, but our students. We looked at lots of data and talked about the faces behind the numbers. We talked about which of those kids will need more support next year and what that support will look like.
It seems extremely ambitious for Hanushek to place a dollar figure on something like a teacher's impact on a student's future earnings. I have a lot of respect for data and I appreciate the fact that advanced metrics have allowed us to isolate the role teachers play in student achievement. But I don't see how it's possible to tease out the impact one teacher has on any given student.
What Mr. Hanushek and others don't seem to grasp is that teachers in this day and age don't "own" their students and the data they generate. We work collaboratively. Remember, there were seven of us in that room, talking about two classes of students. And everyone there played a role in their education and holds a stake in their success.
Furthermore, the students with the highest needs, the ones that need the most support, are the students on whom the most people collaborate. And they're the same students that tend to "drag down" classroom data as it's assigned to a given teacher.
Collaboration is a great thing, and it's here to stay. It's high time the research community accepted it.