5 Ideas to Fix America's Schools

Do we fire teachers or train them better?

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The latest article on how to fix the American public school system comes from Elizabeth Green in this week's New York Times Magazine. Green looks at the specific techniques of successful teachers, and how they can be taught. But not all are convinced teacher training is the way to success. Here's the expanded list of recent ideas on the table. How do we fix American education?

  • Better Teacher Training  Elizabeth Green digs into Doug Lemov's study for what makes a good teacher. Lemov, apparently, "noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn't expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise," and it turns out good teachers all tend to use similar techniques. Green doesn't mean to oversimplify: good teaching is a complicated combination of factors, including subject knowledge and teaching-specific skills. In other words, "It's one thing to know that 307 minus 168 equals 139; it is another thing to be able understand why a third grader might think that 261 is the right answer." But Green and her interviewees make the case that better training for teachers is necessary--simply firing the bad ones won't do it.
  • Better Teacher Hiring  An Atlantic piece by Amanda Ripley, looking at a Teach for America investigation, offers different conclusions. "Great teachers... constantly reevaluate what they are doing," and share "four other tendencies ... They avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully... and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls." Ripley acknowledges it's tricky to "screen for a relentless mind-set" when hiring, but says that "if school systems hired, trained, and rewarded teachers according to the principles Teach for America has identified... they would be operating in a system... designed... for success."
  • Better Discipline  Blogger Steve Sailer, responding to Green's New York Times Magazine piece, thinks the classroom management and attention-holding problems Green describes--which she says can be solved by better training--are perhaps just a matter of classroom discipline. He suspects teachers need more "institutional support" here.
  • Deal with Decentralization  The Atlantic's Derek Thompson talks about the success of Singapore's educational system, but realizes the same approach might not work here. He suggests the U.S.'s highly decentralized system may be a barrier to successful reform of any variety.
  • Listen to the Parents  At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams is uneasy at the recent spate of teacher firings accompanying President Obama's Race to the Top. "For every crappy tenured teacher phoning it in right now, there are others fighting for their careers and their reputations within a system that is frankly gunning for them. As my school's parent association president put it recently, 'Parents can complain about teachers, but we can't save them.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.