Institutionalization of mediocrity?

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

One of the reasons I like the Eduwonk blog so
much is that Andy Rotherham doesn’t pull any punches. I may not always agree
with what he says, but he dares to speak his mind. For example, in a recent post he
says that K-12 education

‘is a culture that accepts and institutionalizes
[teacher] mediocrity’

and that there is a

chronic lack of emphasis on effectiveness and
performance at every step along a teacher’s value chain from preparation,
recruitment, hiring, induction, mentoring and support, and professional
development to evaluation and compensation.’

He goes on to say that

‘talented people don’t want to work in places that aren’t talent sensitive
and this creates an adverse selection problem that reinforces these problems.
[Also,] current practices make this even worse in practice … and credentialing
rules, which often have little connection to research, further limit the pool of
would be or could be teachers.’

Andy’s original
post is here
and includes some interesting links to other sources. What do you
think of Andy’s comments? Is he off-base or right on the money?

3 Responses to “Institutionalization of mediocrity?”

  1. Scott;
    The issues we have with mediocrity in education are just reflecting us back to ourselves. Mediocrity is evident everywhere in our culture.

    We created this assembly line approach to education and now we want to blame the assembly line workers?

    That’s like GM blaming its assembly line workers for the company losing 5 Billion a year.

    It’s like FEMA blaming the workers handing out bottled water in New Orleans for the complete failure of their agency to mount a proper response to the disaster.

    Or like blaming the soldiers in Iraq for the bungling of the war.

    Corporate mediocrity, government mediocrity, news, television…

    The fish usually rots from the head.

    Pete

  2. Hmmm
    since schools are simply a reflection, of sorts, of the wider community they draw their staff and students from… it could be seen to be a comment on the wider community instead… and it seems any time you lift the lid on that idea, the tendency is to look for a scapegoat rather than looking at the situation… or am I just agreeing with the original comments?

  3. Hmm, well I’m not impressed with his argument.

    “a) it is an endogenous situation. In other words, talented people don’t want to work in places that are not talent sensitive and this creates an adverse selection problem that reinforces these problems. (b) current practices make this even worse in practice. And (c) credentialing rules, which often have little connection to research (pdf), further limit the pool of would be or could be teachers.”

    His point in (A) that the mediocrity of teachers keeps new qualified and talented teachers from joining the profession you will notice is the one point that has NO study or outside support. It’s a supposition on his part. I have NEVER heard anyone say, “You know, I always wanted to be a teacher, but really it would be a come down for me because honestly based on what I’ve seen, anyone could do it.” I’ve heard people offer lousy advice on education, or make ignorant generalizations, but I’ve never heard or seen any proof of this so-called “endogenous” situation. The few people I’ve run across with a lousy attitude about teachers had mental health issues (teacher traumas of their own, narcissistic personality disorder, etc.)

    If you look at (B) you will even find an argument against what he says. That study points out that hiring practice ( a late hiring season) by “urban” and otherwise troubled districts leaves them late at the table for hiring talented candidates. It argues that there are many highly qualified applicants to these districts, but they take jobs that are offered to them by suburban districts because those districts hire earlier. The problem in not endogenous but administrative (which is your line of work). We could, perhaps, have a discussion about how union contracts/surplusing issues can affect this, and I’m willing to have that discussion with you because I think it would be a more honest discussion.

    In (C) he has a link about teacher credentialing. I’m not going to argue with his general point on credentialing because HQT has proven the ludicrous levels that licensing can go to. Next up, highly EFFECTIVE teachers; I can’t wait for that one!

    Scott, the problem is not getting new teaching candidates (except, I would concede in science and math), but developing and keeping the new teachers we have trained. The gross waste of money on teacher training that results from the horrific attrition in our profession needs to be addressed squarely. The Quick and the Ed had a this on it http://www.quickanded.com/2007/02/washington-post-magazine-has-very.html .

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