Where are the hordes of bad teachers?

A guest post by Conrad Perry:

It looks like the new Julia being the real Julia campaign has kicked off with a bit of good old fashioned teacher bashing. This reminds me of one of the things that seems really ingrained in many people’s minds, and an assumption which a lot of this teacher bashing is based on, which is that there is a horde of teachers out there who are bored, can’t teach well and are too lazy to get another job that they might actually enjoy. The solution to this is obviously to spend large amounts of money developing scales, standardized tests and IT tracking systems to try and identify them. This seems to appeal a lot to some people, although anyone actually caught up in this sort of system may well realize how useless these sorts of measures can be, and indeed how easy they are to cheat if you are cynical and really want to.
If you get away from the idea that performance should be measured on little scales that generally cheese teachers off and cost huge amounts to administer (it’s been tried on and off in different educational settings for at least 150 years, and there’s no evidence that it’s a particularly successful strategy), it is in fact quite possible to measure whether there really is a great horde of bad teachers out there damaging our education system – it’s been done, it’s been done multiple times and it’s been done using methods that are far better than those that keep legions of micro-managers employed in the education system. A very recent study done in Australia (NSW) and the US that shows just how it can be done well is by Bryan Byrne and colleagues, “Teacher effects” in early literacy development: Evidence from a study of twins (2010; Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 1, 32-42; unfortunately pay-walled), and here is the abstract:

It is often assumed that differences in teacher characteristics are a major source of variability in children’s educational achievements. We examine this assumption for early literacy achievement by calculating the correlations between pairs of twin children who either shared or did not share a teacher in kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2. Teacher effects— or, more strictly, classroom effects—would show up as higher correlations for same-class than for different-class twin pairs. Same-class correlations were generally higher than different-class correlations, though not significantly so on most occasions. On the basis of the results, we estimate that the maximum variance accounted for by being assigned to the same or different classrooms is 8%. This is an upper-bound figure for a teacher effect because factors other than teachers may contribute to variation attributable to classroom assignment. We discuss the limitations of the study and draw out some of its educational implications.

You might like to compare this with some political fodder, the quote of which I’ll shamelessly steal from Byrne et al. also:

Anyone with an ounce of brains knows what must be done . . . . It’s time to move from identifying failing schools to identifying failing teachers. (Alter, 2007, para. 1) Studies claim that 40 per cent of the variation in student performance is the result of teacher quality. (Patty, 2008, para. 8; quoting John Della Bosca, New South Wales, Australia, Minister for Education, in the context of an article about performance based pay for teachers)

The important sentence in the abstract of the Byrne et al. article is the third last one. Basically, what it’s telling you is that if you run a really nice clean study looking at the effect of teacher performance on early literacy development, of all the things that affect how much your child learns at school, teacher performance is likely to account for 8% of it, and that’s an upper bound – i.e., it’s probably less because that 8% includes things that even a really good experiment can’t remove, like the effect of teachers’ aids, the other kids in the class and so on (this is why Byrne et al. call what they find classroom effects, not teacher effects). Whilst this number is still bigger than zero (i.e., the teacher has no effect), it’s vastly smaller than what some of our politicians are claiming. The quote from Della Bosca, for example, suggests that of all of the things that affect how much your child learns, teacher performance is likely to account for 40% of it, or five times as much as what Byrne et al. are claiming. You can think about this in terms of which percentile a child would fall into on a test. If a child was ranked at the 50th percentile on a test (i.e., was better than or equal to 50% of the other kids) and had the worst possible teacher, then Byrne et al. would predict that if they had the best possible teacher instead, it would have moved them up the scale 8 percentage points, so they would instead have been ranked at the 58th percentile (i.e., better than or equal to 58% of the other kids). Alternatively, Della Bosca would predict that in the same situation, changing from the worst to the best possible teacher would have moved the child up the scale 40 percentage points rather than 8, so they instead would have been ranked at the 90th percentile (i.e., better than or equal to 90% of the other kids). This is obviously a huge difference in what is being claimed. If teachers really did make the type of difference that Della Bosca is claiming they do, there would be every reason to try and find those who were performing poorly, and it wouldn’t be very hard. The obvious reason that this hasn’t been done is that the data doesn’t support the claim of Della Bosca, and Byrne et al. cite a number of other reputable studies both in early literacy and other educational areas that find similar results to their own study.

So if teacher performance only accounts for 8% of what is learnt in the classroom (or at least what can be measured easily), it leads one to wonder what might account for the rest. There are many different factors that are likely to be important, such as the extent that parents help their kids, different genetic predispositions kids have to different types of tasks, what kids learn from other kids outside school and so on. Indeed, one might wonder here why you would even bother about getting good teachers if the effect they have on learning is not especially large – perhaps what this is telling us is that it doesn’t really matter if we have bad teachers. This is, however, the wrong way to look at the problem. A more likely interpretation of what is going on is that most teachers are doing a reasonable job of teaching your kids, and the fact that most teachers are doing a reasonable job means that going from the best to the worst isn’t going very far, and that other factors are therefore more important in terms of explaining the differences between kids that you can find. Hopefully this shouldn’t be such a surprise, because these days teachers have good textbooks, university degrees teaching them how to teach, generally use the same curriculum and some probably have supportive workplaces when they do have problems. If you’re not convinced of this, then try and think what you would need to believe if you want to hold on to the assumption that there are lots and lots of bad teachers around. If you believe this, then what the data is telling you is that teachers have only a very minor influence on the kids that they teach. If this is so, then why would you want to spend large amounts of money with all these measures trying to find the bad ones anyway?

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Angela
11 years ago

Thank you so much for this post. As one of those ‘bad teachers’ (at least, I assume the politicians would call me a bad teacher, as my school typically performs poorly in NAPLAN testing), it is refreshing to see someone talking about this from a different perspective.

Wazza
Wazza
11 years ago

Enlightening

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

I’m not sure that you have interpreted the Byrne study correctly. I interpret it to mean that putting twins in the same classroom rather than different classrooms reduces the variance in their learning by 8%. That is, the same-classroom twins show 92% of the variance of the different-classroom twins.

Thus the 8% is a relative measure, not an absolute measure. It has nothing to do with where kids sit on the learning percentile. It is seen to be obviously ridiculous if you assume a bright kid who was at 96%ile with a bad teacher would have to move to the “104%ile” with a good teacher. You what?

I don’t blame you for your poor grasp of statistics. I put it down to your maths teacher.

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[…] guest poster over at Club Troppo asks the question, “Where are the hordes of bad teachers?” Good question. It looks like the new Julia being the real Julia campaign has kicked off with […]

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

Dave,

Total Variance = Other stuff (92%) + teacher-differences (8% in Byrne et al.), i.e., some part of the score comes from things not to do with differences between teachers, and the rest comes from differences between teachers.

This means that if a kid had the worst teacher, they could never achieve 96%, since if they got nothing from the teacher, the best they could ever hope for is 92%.

You can think of this in terms of a pie with two slices, one which accounts for 92% of the pie, and the other which accounts for 8%. You get a part of each piece of pie depending on your circumstances, and the sum of these two parts determines your percentile.

If your get 0% of the pie because the teacher is hopeless, the best you can hope for is some part of the other piece, and even if you get all of the other piece, you get 92% of the pie.

dorinny
11 years ago

Indeed, one might wonder here why you would even bother about getting good teachers if the effect they have on learning is not especially large – perhaps what this is telling us is that it doesn’t really matter if we have bad teachers.

Not a pleasant thought to wrap one’s head around.

I do recall though, during my years in school and university, that despite having a good or a bad teacher, there were some students who always did very poorly, and others who excelled at everything, regardless of the teacher.

On the other hand, I always performed better in those classes where the teacher seemed to be “better” in my opinion. Particularly when they seemed to really enjoy what they were doing.

Bruce Bradbury
Bruce Bradbury
11 years ago

I agree with Dave that you have an incorrect interpretation of the 8%. Later on in the body of their paper Byrne et al say

An effect of the size we have identified is not trivial. Nye et al.
(2004) framed their interpretation by assuming that teachers are
the effective element of classroom-level effects and pointed out
that “the difference in achievement gains between having a 25th
percentile teacher (a not so effective teacher) and a 75th percentile
teacher (an effective teacher) is over one third of a standard
deviation (0.35) in reading” (p. 253). There would be a similar
difference between an average teacher (50th percentile) and a
highly effective teacher (90th percentile). Thus, although 8% of
variance and differences of the order of one third of a standard
deviation would generally be regarded as small effects, any increase
in literacy for an individual child is to be welcomed.

This is a bit confusing in that they quote someone else, but I think they are saying this interpretation applies to their own study. For normally distributed outcomes, an increase of a third of a standard deviation is equivalent to going from the 50th percentile of the distribution to the 63rd percentile – not huge, but not negligible either.

Nonetheless there are some important caveats:

1) A class-room effect (which is what they measure) is not the same as a teacher effect (eg one classroom might have more disruptive children). So the teacher effect will be smaller than this.

2) Even if there is a teacher effect, it doesn’t mean that practical interventions can take advantage of it. For example, headmaster views on who is the most effective teacher will be an imprecise measure. To put this another way, if headmasters had been asked which twin had the better teacher, I would expect this measure of teacher effects to explain a much smaller part of the outcome variance. Generally, going from general ‘cluster effects’ like this to effects based on observable (and hence policy-relevant) characteristics is a big step.

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

Conrad,

Thanks for your response. I guess your interpretation of the Byrne results – as an 8% move in percentile terms – is internally consistent, but it still doesn’t sound right to me.

But, if you are right, the implications are huge. The smartest kid in the country might barely scrape into the top 10% of achievers if he has a bad teacher? That sounds pretty serious to me.

My interpretation was that the “classroom effect” was 8% of the variance of twins’ marks. So, suppose that twins were typically separated by about 10% on the percentile scale. Then the classroom effect would be about 0.8% on the percentile scale. That sounds pretty modest, and more credible to me.

Richard Green
11 years ago

I think it’s also interesting to speculate on the dynamics of a school, say compared to a factory (modeled as a saw toothed building with a chimney) where workers are on equal pay. The bludging problem in the factory is less important for the fact that some workers realise they can bludge and still get paid, but for the fact that other workers note the lack of censure and follow suit, not because they can, but because they don’t like upholding a virtue that isn’t followed elsewhere. This is related to the concept in the factory that bludging by one worker requires more work from the remainder.

In a school setting this is less clear since a given class is the responsibility of a given teacher. Bludging doesn’t inflict more work on your peers (perhaps the next year, but a teacher probably deems their output to be improvement from when they take over, not the lifetime of the school attendance), so bludging is less likely to inspire more bludging. Additionally, a teacher knows that extra effort on their part won’t result in gains for co-workers or employers (since even private schools are usually non-profit). The beneficiaries of more work would be students (which can’t be begrudged) and the teacher themselves through the intrinsic motivation of having done the work well.

So there’s good reasons not to expect education to have the same incentive problems as many other industries, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the “lazy” part of “bad” isn’t very prevalent as a problem.

The “Talentless” part is another issue. I’m not particularly worried about it as a broader problem, but do want to describe what happened with one particularly talentless teacher I once had. Suffice it to say that, apart from being a vile person, as a history teacher describing the reign of Elizabeth I she kept referring to Mary Tudor as Mary Queen of Scots. Eventually (after disruption and suspension on my part) I stopped going to her class. I was given a room and a special assignment to do to complete the course without having to attend the class again.

I’m not sure what lessons, if any can be drawn from this, but lets try

Since I was a) At a selective school they couldn’t blame my intelligence. b) Was middle class (highly correlated with a)) so they were more inclined to listen to me. So for a subset of students who are already priviliged principals are already working around the talentless and making special arrangements. The problem then is that this privilige is restricted, and this is due to far larger cultural issues, not education policy.

Also, if principals were given power to weed out such talentless teachers (as rare as I suspect them to be), they don’t need quantification to recognise them. Any metrics use would be of little use, but would still retain the large problems they are associated with; Fostering of exam culture, the crushing of intrinsic motivation to educate in a way not captured by the metrics, incentive to duke the stats etc.

Richard Green
11 years ago

Nick – it wasn’t directed at you, but obviously it partially came from prior exchanges.

I meant to pay lip service to social censure (acknowledging it as a caveat whilst disregarding it for the purposes of simplification). I hadn’t considered the possibility you describe though – the knock on effects of the peer system that doesn’t develop. It does raise an interesting possibility though. If a peer system arises because of a immediately felt (i.e obvious) bludging problem, but an organisation can suffer overall from a less obvious bludging problem because there is no peer system – because that immediate problem was not felt – then the peer system overcomes far more than the problem that aroused it. Kind of like a small infection resulting in antibodies that prevent larger infections I guess. How do we inoculate organisations that haven’t been exposed to the obvious bludging problem against the less obvious problem.

Sinclair Davidson
Sinclair Davidson
11 years ago

Anglo countries want education on the cheap.

I’d go beyond that and say anglo countries want government on the cheap. Now good government isn’t cheap. The consequence, from my perspective, is that if people don’t want to pay more for government we need to have a smaller government doing less better. Others, of course, would suggest that we all pay more to do more better.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

Nicholas,

I don’t think that we have lots of bad teachers either — that’s what I think this data shows, that the difference between good and bad teachers is quite small (depending on whether you want the glass full or empty), and certainly smaller than most people think. I just get sick of people using it as a justification for the types of changes which there are better justified via other methods (like those you mention), even if they are implicit (Della Bosca being a good example). For example, there are pobably lots of reasons you might want schools principals to have more freedom, including ones that don’t rely on negative attacks.

As for you second comment, I basically agree with them, although I think the biggest “free” gains are likely to be had by incrementally fixing up the curriculum. At present, for example, Australia does better than almost any country on literacy, but is only average on Maths and Science. No-one ever mentions the first of these — indeed, if you look at the critics, they generally criticize literacy and not mathematics, probably because telling someone “phonics is good” is understandable (it’s true, it is), and that “introducing inequalities with small sets before large sets in grade 1….” isn’t. More importantly, the second of these is not because Maths and Science is done poorly everywhere, since it’s done really well in NSW and VIC, and the main difference between states is their curriculum, so that’s a good place to start looking. As for performance pay — I don’t think it matters much, which is what most reviews show (there is a big review by ACER on this). Alternatively, things like better career structures might.

Bruce:

I was treating the 8% as one would treat the r2 in a regression, based on this: “In the only experimental study of classroom effects (Nye et al.,
2004), the proportion of variance in early literacy attributable to
classroom was approximately .07, close to our estimate of .08.”.

However, I just spoke to one of our proper stats people about that, and I agree, the distribution matters to bring things back to percentiles. My first post and I mess up the percentiles a bit!

billie
billie
11 years ago

In my limited emergency teaching experience I have been struck by the differences in school culture from

the dormitory suburb that expects its students to work in factories training the kids to know their place

the elite private school that treats every individual with respect

the catholic and high schools where teachers have to be listened to, and by and large the kids listen and subsequently learn and are expected to attain university entrance and they do

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. ie if the kid doesn’t want to learn you can’t make them and neither is it any one other than the pupil’s responsibility

FDB
FDB
11 years ago

“I’d go beyond that and say anglo countries want government on the cheap. Now good government isn’t cheap. The consequence, from my perspective, is that if people don’t want to pay more for government we need to have will be lumped by entrenched interests with a smaller the same or larger government doing less better worse. Others, of course, would suggest that we all pay more to do more better get good government by the actual means available to us.”

Sinclair, such sense… You’re only those minor corrections away from being a social democrat!

Richard Green
11 years ago

Nick – I didn’t express it properly since I was thinking as I typed – a bad idea. I’ll try again [also, I only just noticed your reply at 8, it wasn’t there when I originally began typing a reply]. In teaching bludging doesn’t leave more work for others, and that bludger doesn’t free ride on the other teachers (the “obvious problem”). This means that social norms to discourage bludging never develop in response. The social norms that develop then are solely those that always develop around in group solidarity. Unfortunately this also builds on the resentment (My mother was a teacher whose only career advice was “you can be anything, just don’t become a teacher”, I am sensitive to the resentment) and creates the “solidarity of mediocrity. These norms create a culture where the heartfelt desire to act in the student’s interest is limited to pressuring outsiders rather than complimenting this pressure with an internalisation – what the teachers themselves can do in their job, by encouraging themselves and each other to do better (the “non obvious problem”).

Which led me to a speculation regarding organisations in general. It might be better to have the “obvious problem”, because the social norms that develop also work against the “non obvious problem”, like an inoculation.

I also wonder if some of the resentment is being instilled at a fairly early stage. When we try to make our teacher’s better educated, this often means adding bits and pieces to the curriculum they learn at Uni, which is usually achieved by plonking large numbers of education students in compulsory subjects accross a number of schools in a given uni. You’re beginning a process of acclimatising them to think that all that is expected and rewarded in them is ticking the right boxes and jumping through the right hoops.

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

Interesting post.

With this kind of study, I am always concerned about selection effects. The idea behind using twins is that they have similar innate characteristics. However, one must still ask the question: why are some twins in the same class, and some in different classes? Is this purely random, or could it be systematically related to the abilities of the twins? If so, the results will be biased.

In any case, my suspicion is that this bias would lead to an overstatement of the effect of classroom on performance. So, 8% would be a further overstatement.

Sinclair Davidson
Sinclair Davidson
11 years ago

LoL. I suspect the IPA know my views on good government.

observa
observa
11 years ago

“..then why would you want to spend large amounts of money with all these measures trying to find the bad ones anyway?”

Because ‘good parents’ nowadays have to be nutritionists, psychologists, sports coaches, medical experts, pharmacologists, nurses, teachers, linguists, etc, etc and politically correct experts at just about everything as all the experts in the field keep telling them so publicly and regularly with all those statistics about what happens when they’re not. So when they go off to work and leave their 1.8 munchkins in the hands of others for the day guess what?

observa
observa
11 years ago

When Tim Blair put up a piccy of a fireworks supermarket in one US State it brought out ‘the good old days’ in the comments not least those swings and playgrounds we used to visit (sans fences and peddo warnings). As I recalled- remember those log swings the whole street could pile on and try and swing to the sky and you had to watch you didn’t get squashed against the top bars or flung off and the only OH&S instructions you had were in case of atom bombs to curl up and kiss your arse goodbye. Thems were the days eh [teachers]?

observa
observa
11 years ago

And on the seventh day the nanny staters rested and gathered around to look at the statistics and wonder at what they had created and they were….?? ;)

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

In looking over tutorial classes in economics where there seemed to be substantial differences in teaching ability and enthusiasm of tutors, I found disturbing little variation in the average final exam marks of the tutorial groups.

It seemed that it didn’t matter whether the tutor was “excellent” or “shockingly bad”. My anecdotal conclusion – based on random discussions with students – was this:

If the average student had an “excellent” tutor, they tended to relax a bit, knowing they could rely a bit more on the tutor to “give them the goods”.

If the average student had an “awful” tutor, they tended to knuckle-down and do a lot more autonomous study, believing the tutor/tutorial was pretty much useless.

In short, students adjusted their behaviour to the teaching environment.

dorinny
11 years ago

students adjusted their behaviour to the teaching environment.

Definitely agree, but maybe university students/environment is a bad example in the context of Conrad’s original post – after all, Uni students are all there by choice. Primary & Highschool students are pretty much forced to go, and don’t have to pay for their education. I think in the case of having an “awful” teacher, there would be a lot of school kids unable to ‘knuckle-down’ of their own accord.

dorinny
11 years ago

By the way Ed, you’d be in my ‘excellent’ list. I’m sure most of your students would agree.

In contrast, I spent the first 2 of a 3 hour lecture last night listening to the life story of a man who couldnt even explain how “markets worked”. He even showed us photographs of his farm. How sweet. We then had a 10 minute break, followed by 30 minutes of more anecdotes and how the ‘academics’ in the subject won’t help us in the real world, and finally, approximately 10 minutes of how to calculate cross rates and triangular arbitrage, which was actually the topic for the evening. Another $2700 of my hard earned money down the gurgler.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“I think in the case of having an “awful” teacher, there would be a lot of school kids unable to ‘knuckle-down’ of their own accord.”

Their parents could help them, and that would be testable. If compensation is important, you should find more variance in groups where the parents don’t help much compared to groups where they do.

observa
observa
11 years ago

And speaking of the good old days vis a vis nanny staters and their creation, a mixed blessing for us all with the next generation of the ‘good parent’-
http://www.theage.com.au/environment/water-issues/sale-of-water-is-banned-and-thats-just-lubbly-bubbly-20100727-10uer.html

doctorpat
doctorpat
11 years ago

It seems to me that the general public is fairly convinced of the existence, and need to get rid of, bad teachers because we can ALL recall having some completely useless ones when we were at school.

Now we have some experimental evidence that teachers don’t actually make that much difference to the individual student performance. Which is really counter-intuitive. I have a few thoughts:
1. Sometimes, the counterintuitive thing is what happens.
2. Is this tiny effect because of a deliberate policy in schools to minimise the effect of teacher incompetence? Just as workers on a production line will have far less effect on the quality and output compared to individual craftsmen making individual goods by hand; so too, our current school approach of set curriculum and standardized teaching methods is designed to reduce the disadvantage of a poor individual teacher.

and finally
3. The only clear result is that social research would be much improved by a government medical program to increase the number of twins in our society.

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

dorinny said:

maybe university students/environment is a bad example in the context of Conrad’s original post – after all, Uni students are all there by choice.

True, school kids are “trapped”, so to speak, with poor/good teachers – but to some extent, so are uni students after they have committed to a uni. If you’re enrolled in degree X at uni Y, and one of your subjects has a crappy teacher, the costs (time, effort, money) involved in “un-choosing” the degree or the uni just to escape the teacher are so high that you are effectively “trapped” just like a school kid is.

Also, I find that a lot of uni students don’t realise how good/bad a teacher is until they are well into their degrees, or even only discover this after they’ve finished their degree. In that sense they were “trapped” by ignorance.

E.g. an Honours student I know always thought the teaching standard at the uni where he got his undergrad degree was pretty low, so after graduating “defected” to a more “prestigious” uni to do Honours. He was so shocked at how little academic support there was for Honours students, that he came running back to his original uni – now with a radically revised evaluation of the standard of teaching.

dorinny
11 years ago

True, school kids are “trapped”, so to speak, with poor/good teachers – but to some extent, so are uni students after they have committed to a uni.

I do see your point, but again (although, correct me if I’m wrong), bad lecturers or tutors can be fired quite easily, unlike school teachers who are well protected. As a poster over on another forum discussing this very same topic said;

“There are some hopeless teachers out there. The other teachers and the principals know who they are. But they are like koalas – a protected species.”

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“There are some hopeless teachers out there. The other teachers and the principals know who they are. But they are like koalas – a protected species.”

Of course, rather than just firing people, you could trying retraining them. It also seems likely to be the case that many people are good at some things but not others. For example, someone might be really good at working with kids with learning disabilities, average with normal kids, and poor with high achievers. Someone else might be good with introverted kids but poor with naughty ones. The situation is even more complicated in high school, because you might be really good at teaching one subject but not another, or even good at teaching the same thing at different grade levels. If any of these things are the case, then simply firing someone is bad management if you can move them into something they are good at.

observa
observa
11 years ago

Whilst I’d wholeheartedly agree with you that there aren’t hordes of bad teachers Nic, I think you’re missing the point that no amount of evidence will change. I’d liken it to climate change where the left spruikers built an edifice like they have for education. They build up CC as a great moral imperative and with it global ETS which at it’s heart is the notion that ‘we’ are gunna cap ‘them’ big bad polluters. So far so good except that it’s a lie in the sense that ‘they’ really do it for ‘us’ and that becomes apparent when the pollies have to handout free credits to vulnerable big biz(eg La Trobe)and/or the bills begin to rise. Hey it’s not us so why aren’t you screwing them over!!!

It’s a bit the same with spruiking education so much and for so long as ‘our’ saviour, which actually drives more and more to make the private school sacrifice (wouldn’t I like free advertising). Truth is it’s much more about their peers and parents than teacher quality but it all gets associated with hire and fire of the private sector. The result is that more and more public parents want some of what they’re having in the privates. Well if you can’t have the peers and you’re the perfect parent (with plenty of rights and no responsibility) what does that leave? What Julia understands implicitly. OTOH all that leaves for public teachers is- well if we had more resources like them we could do exactly the same. Lies damn lies and statistics.

observa
observa
11 years ago

Interesting to look back at the great liberal/left experiment with their notion that egalitarian education would drive positive change (ie equality) and hence their ‘good society’. The gradual abandonment of grading and testing. Remember the A,B,C,D.. classes and those externally set Intermediate, Leaving and Matric examinations folks? All swept away for one size fits all education and continual assessment not to mention lots more subjects that lack real intellectual demand or rigour. What has been the overall result? School segregation as conservatives everywhere increasingly abandoned the public sector and who was the eventual loser? The very class of children leftists wanted to elevate in the first place, as the large public sector increasingly lost its most conservative peer group, their values and concomitant political demand pressure.

On the flip side what held it together at the bottom end was corporal punishment for the recalcitrant few and the forgetful many. If it didn’t go in the ear it went in the rear. Abandon that conservative social glue and the LCD minority could make life extremely difficult for the majority. The answer for conservatives? Segregation to the privates where they shared their values and if the odd kid didn’t they could be flicked back to the public system of last resort with no last resort. The next step was to open up tertiary education to more entrants in the belief that would create more equality. Now we’ve got to the stage where nearly 3 out of 10 Australians have degrees the bar has simply been raised to postgrad to separate the wheat from the chaff, not to mention the lack of intelligible lingo.

Same with a host of conservative social mores surrounding marriage, children out of wedlock, defacto=marriage commitment and the like. Divorce law ‘reform’ and SocSec relaxation for alternative child raising created no go suburbs full of unwed mothers and their various sperm donors whilst drying up adoption for more worthy childless couples. Again look at the suburban segregation that has occurred as a result of left/liberal producer groups and their ‘reforms’. Just more obvious evidence of the law of unintended consequences kicking in with left/liberal hubris and folly. Can’t put the all rights and no self disciplining responsibility genie back in the bottle now I’m afraid which is why we live and play where we do and the rest can gratify themselves with their unintended consequences while grimacing at their Julia’s contradictions.

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Ah yes, the good old days of streaming and institutionalised child abuse in schools, forced adoption and shotgun marriages. How sadly we miss them now.

observa
observa
11 years ago

How’s that streaming into whole suburbs and outback ghettoes with its subsidised communal child abuse going Gummo? I see we conservatives are not the only ones having trouble finding good staff straight out of the liberal education sector-
http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/social-workers-sex-with-teen-illegal/story-e6frfku0-1225902174439
But is it any wonder when they’ve filled the legal system with them-
http://www.news.com.au/national/its-ok-to-tell-police-officers-to-fck-off/story-e6frfkvr-1225901937675
We can safely leave his uncouth kids to public ed teachers to deal with eh judge?
While those at the commanding heights of it all, who deep down share our values but mustn’t say so out loud, return to the conservative comfort of our leafy burbs at night and have trouble looking us straight in the eye the shameless hypocrites-
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/d-head-line-too-much-for-john-brumby-as-new-road-safety-campaign-triggers-controversy/story-e6frf7kx-1225847319316

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
11 years ago

The School Report meme that Brendon Nelson used to go on about was bizarre – the simple A – F scale when I went to school (I think Nelson reduced it to A-E), it just wasn’t happening in any of my experiences. I’ve tutored heaps of HSC students during the time and there wasn’t some massive reduction in the standard of school reports – they all had scales and rankings where they came in their class/grade etc. – all the PC nonsense that gets regurgitated just wasn’t happening.

The thing that was happening was the school reports were a lot more detailed than when I was a student – they had more information than a couple of lines of observation and a grading. What they added was a lot of specific information that might have been overwhelming for some parents if they went beyond just grades, but which if a parent spent maybe five minutes looking up a scholastic term might have delved into a problem. For a tutor this was valuable information as it dug deeper into the specific areas where the child was having problems, which as a tutor allowed me to focus on a child’s weaknesses almost from the first lesson (instead of having to take maybe 5-6 weeks to work out where the child’s biggest liabilities resided)

I just don’t know which parallel universe most of the politically correct stuff comes from, even the romanticisation of corporal punishment. The kids who got the cane were seen as brave souls bucking authority – they used to brag about it – it didn’t seem to act as much of a deterrant as they were up to more mischief a few days later.

Tel
Tel
11 years ago

The title of this article might just as well be “Where are all the Hoards of Good Teachers?” because the objective of any sort of standardized testing system is to separate the good from the bad; so it is just as much about rewarding good results, as it is about weeding out the bad.

Education is a demoralised, underpaid, over bureaucratised sector and so the great teachers who stay in the system do so out of love, altruism and/or desperation and risk aversion. It’s all not good. Not good at all.

OK Nick, so you seem to believe that teachers should be paid more, and presumably that extra pay would result in better teaching (otherwise paying more would be a waste of money). The article quite clearly states that the best ROI you can achieve with the extra pay is 8% — seems hardly worth the trouble.

If the magic ingredient that makes Sydney Boys and Sydney Girls deliver better results every single year than Mount Druitt is not good teaching, then find out what is this magic educational component and put the money into that.

Of course if I’m paying more for a product, then I want to see a better product, and I want some way of assuring the quality of the product that I’m buying. Doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“The article quite clearly states that the best ROI you can achieve with the extra pay is 8% — seems hardly worth the trouble”

This isn’t the right way to think about it, because they’re talking about variation between teachers, not overall performance.

I.e., the effect of the teacher = some overall amount all teachers share (i.e., a constant) + the differences between teachers left over.

So it might well be that teachers really contribute a lot, but because what they are doing is fairly homogenous, the differences between them are not especially good at predicting scores. This is very different to them not have much effect.

So the idea of the paying teachers extra would be to increase the overall performance of your workforce. This is definitely what you want at present, because the quality of new entrants has been declining steadily for quite some time.

The other reason I use “where are the bad” and not “where are the good” is because I don’t think it is the same question. The reason for this is that Australia has exceptionally high literacy scores, so the overall performance of teachers without worrying about differences between them is probably very reasonable in that very big area.

Tel
Tel
11 years ago

With regards to “value for money” @#42, I personally would balk at slamming down some hundreds of dollars to see a chubby cricketer jog up and down the same short stretch of grass all day. However, the massive revenue raked in by such sporting events clearly demonstrates that my personal value system does not align with the mainstream of our population. Guessing from the above, seems Nick has a few differences on value issues as well.

If it came to a matter of push and shove between my personal values and the mainstream, I’d probably lose. So, I should be thankful there are people out there willing to suffer my difference of opinion at all. It would be dangerously hypocritical for me to attempt to force other people to discard what they hold dearly (e.g. getting drunk at a cricket match, buying $10 beers) just because I’ve decided I know what’s good for them better than they do.

Central planning driven by monopsony power is identical in practical outcome to central planning driven by legislative power. Anyhow, the government has so strictly regulated the education industry in order to guarantee its single-buyer position. There is really only one power at work, and market forces do not operate.

At the moment we have a democratically determined, centrally planned industry where price has become a matter for swinging voters to decide. These voters consistently demonstrate that teacher’s pay is not an area they want to invest in. Even the Labor Party (who plugged the education mantra for many years in opposition) decided that dumping money into the building industry was smarter than dumping it into the teaching industry. Central planning has no interest whatsoever in people with values outside the mainstream.

In my mind, the only escape from this is for government to lighten the regulations and encourage a bit of diversity in the market — so we can actually have some sort of market. Yes, we currently have private schools so people who have the money can push that money into teacher’s pay should they choose to, but these schools are themselves highly regulated and there’s a huge jump in price between public and private, without any graduated range of options.

If you are going to have a market, then you need some way for people to know what they are buying, which means evaluating the quality of the product and publishing “league tables” or something equivalent. Of course, different people will pay for different things (some will insist their kids grow up to play cricket for example) but that’s the price of diversity — putting up with people doing things you don’t think are a good idea.

So the idea of the paying teachers extra would be to increase the overall performance of your workforce. This is definitely what you want at present, because the quality of new entrants has been declining steadily for quite some time.

Fully agreed, and I’ll point out that this scenario does not escape the question of selectivity. As teaching becomes a higher paid and more respected profession, more people want to be teachers. Not only do you attract better entrants, but you are forced to reject those other people that the “better entrants” will inevitably displace. One way or another you are still back to finding ways of determining good teachers from bad teachers. The process may be relegated to some private interview room, hidden from public sight, where the market for favours operates in the place of the market for dollars — but the cruel decision still gets made, by someone, somewhere.

You don’t remove cruelty from the world by removing it from polite conversation and then encouraging people to look away.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“In my mind, the only escape from this is for government to lighten the regulations and encourage a bit of diversity in the market”

One way to look at this is how much benefit you would get from it. Let’s say this did really work, and you got, say, a 5% gain. That’s nothing to laugh about, but it isn’t the whole story.

The reason I say that is that I think the amount some people are willing to pay is less than the amount it takes to run a really good system, especially in primary schools, where people seem to care even less about quality than high schools. (I don’t know what the reason for that is, but it’s possibly because people have little idea about what’s good and bad to teach primary school kids, whereas at least they have some idea about what they teach at high school.)

So, the problem is that even if you got all the efficiency gains you can imagine (and most of the great ideas people think of turn out to give you very small gains when are they actually implemented in reality, like vouchers for example), it might not be enough to have the system you might want — maybe less of gap, but still gap. I think that’s a cultural problem, in that people are more concerned with buying stuff than education here.

A second reason that people may be spending less is that it may the case that at the individual level it makes sense for people not to spend the money, but that the level of education that allows for the best productivity across society is too low based on the level you can get from the spending that individuals make. For example, I live in a neighborhood with a selective government school, and so there’s no reason for anyone in my neighborhood to spend the type of money that would make for a good system, since they’ll get a good school no matter what. So it must be the case that people in my neighborhood spend less than would make for a system that is good everywhere. If this is the case, I don’t see what options the government has apart from subsidizing the difference between the amount it costs to reach a level of education that they think is optimal and the amount that individuals are willing to contribute.

observa
observa
11 years ago
Des
Des
11 years ago

I don’t understand why this twinning study has been focused on. There are plenty of other very good studies on teacher contribution to student performance. For example, Barbara Nye of Tennessee State University and colleagues reported in 2004 on a study in Tennessee in which students from kindergarten to Grade 3 were randomly assigned to variously sized classes in 42 school districts. They controlled for SES background of the students and used Student Achievement Test (SAT) scores to measure student achievement. In reading, the between teacher variance component is over twice as large as between-school variance component at grade 2 and over three times as large at grade 3. In mathematics, the pattern is similar but larger. As has been found in previous studies variance between teachers was significantly greater than between schools.

After parents and the home environment, it is the teachers that make the difference. The biggest study was the meta-analysis of John Hattie now at Auckland University. Of the 50% of variation in student performance achieved after the child arrives at school which is not accounted for by home effects, the greatest effect is teacher quality. And it is teacher performance, not teacher experience.

The reason that tests such as NAPLAN should be discarded is their impact on narrowing the curriculum and dumbing down the teaching. Student test scores should not be used by themselves as the basis for merit pay is that a great many more factors contribute to the achievement of students, not least teachers other than the ones who taught the student in year the student took the test. Tests should be used to improve the teacher’s performance, as Hattie points out and as happens in schools in high performing countries.

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

dorinny said:

but again (although, correct me if I’m wrong), bad lecturers or tutors can be fired quite easily

These days, it is a bit of an “It All Depends” situation. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

dorinny
11 years ago

Don’t you just love tangents?