Good teachers are the most important factors in student learning
and yet, as Bill points out, as a country we have not been serious about identifying, understanding, and trying to replicate good teaching.

Bill suggests something that I’ve suggested, and that web 2.0 tools make feasible: video recording classes to analyze and reflect on teaching. What better reflection than that done on accurate data? And what better means of gathering classroom data than digital video? Its ease-of-use ever higher, its cost-of-use ever lower, I’m with Bill when he suggests this as an obvious and neglected tool for promulgating good teaching.

Will the KIPP approach that Bill endorses work everywhere? Its frenetic pace and high energy would be good at the middle school level, but Wesley Fryer’s question is important: are the KIPP teachers truly “engaging” students in their own learning, or are they merely “enthralling” them in a neat bit of social control technology? And if more learning is occuring, does it matter that their authentic voices may not be fully privileged in the process?

One other point: at the risk of upsetting my teachers’ union pals, I cannot see the justice of pre-emptively preventing authentic assessment of teacher quality, which Bill says is going on. Although he doesn’t mention the “U” word, the idiotic protections keeping test data completely off the table in teacher assessment was probably a teacher’s union move. Teachers unions are essential, but Bill’s right: sometimes short-sighted and misguided, too.

At my public district I believe there is nothing in the contract to keep a supervisor out of the teacher’s classroom for evaluative purposes. And that, I’d tell any teacher, is how it should be. I think it’s a good idea for a principal to unobtrusively pop into a teacher’s classroom from time to time, observe a few minutes, and move on, provided it’s done in a benevolent spirit. Informal, spontaneous visits like these offer authentic fodder for real discussion and formative assessment, and would anyone approve an administrator’s ignoring bad teaching?

At least one thing can be said for KIPP schools: they are serious about using and maintaining the most important tools in the educational box: teachers.

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