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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Do most teachers really come from the bottom third of their class?

by Larry Ferlazo

In listening to the trio of Gingrich, Sharpton and Duncan on Meet The Press today, one of the things that struck me was this videotaped piece from Bruce Stewart, formerly the head of the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.:

MR. BRUCE STEWART: When I began teaching in the ’60s, we had that population of people. And since then, because greater opportunities have opened up for young women and for minorities, there’s been a great brain drain from American schools. I think we want to get those people back. If you look at Singapore, look at Finland, the reason they consistently are testing their population of students in the top levels of international exams, it’s the quality of their teaching force. They all come from the top third of their colleges, universities. In the United States, our tendency today is to have that pool of teachers coming from the bottom third of college and universities and from the bottom third of those classes. That’s something we need to reverse and to change.

I’ve heard this kind of statistic about teachers coming from the bottom third of something or other before (though never about the bottom third of classes — I don’t know where he got that bizarre statistic from), and just ignored it. But hearing it on Meet The Press, from the director of a private school, got “my dander up” and I decided to look into where those numbers came from and how valid and reliable they were. It was quite a ride on a Sunday afternoon….

Here is what I found…

Tons of people use a McKinsey report as the reference for the statistic of teachers coming from the bottom third of colleges. That report just uses a quote saying that:

“We are now recruiting our teachers from the bottom third of high school students going to college…” (p. 19)

It uses as its citation “Tough Choices Or Tough Times” , a report issued by The New Commission On The Skills Of The American Workforce in 2007.

So I went there. The link in the preceding paragraph only leads to a downloadable summary, which just stated the same statistic with no citation of a source. So, I went to Amazon, downloaded a Kindle Reader for my PC, and purchased the whole report.

That report uses as its source a “Report From The Department Of Education, National Center For Education Statistics, The Condition Of Education 2002.” It quotes the report as saying:

“A report by the National Council on Teacher Quality in 2004 said that the profession attracts a ‘disproportionately high number of candidates from the lower end of the distribution of academic ability.’ And, college graduates whose SAT or ACT scores were in the bottom quartile were more than twice as likely as those in the top quartile to have majored in education.”

Well, I couldn’t find that exact quote (but admittedly, I was getting a bit punch drunk by that time and might just have missed it) in the Condition of Education 2002, though page 91 has a lot of mathematical discussions of this topic, little of which I could understand (perhaps a math teacher can take a look?). I also found it interesting that I couldn’t find any other Condition of Education reports (they’re issued every year) that examine that topic.

However, I did find information on the National Council on Teacher Quality report that was quoted (which also based its critique on SAT and ACT scores), including criticism of its methodology – it apparently only included a portion of people who were going to be teachers. In fact, it excluded that portion who typically score the highest on SAT (the link takes to you a NY Times article about it that gives details). Also, ironically, in the same year, the same National Council on Teacher Quality came out with another report basically dismissing SAT scores as a valid and reliable predictor of teacher effectiveness, saying:

“…measurable teacher attributes like SAT scores…account for only a small portion of why some teachers are more effective than others.” (p. 10)

So, after all that, what are my conclusions?

First, I’d love to find out where the Sidwell guy came-up with his numbers, since they seem to be flat-out wrong.

Second, I’d love for a math person to examine the numbers on page 91 of the report on the Condition of Education 2002 to tell me what it really says in plain English.

Third, based on what I read of the criticism of the National Council of Teacher Quality report, this “bottom one-third” number also appears to be flat-out wrong.

And fourth, even if their numbers were right (which they don’t appear to be), it’s all much ado about nothing because they themselves say it’s not a reliable predictor of teacher effectiveness.

In other words, this bottom-third thing does seem to me to be a bunch of baloney.

What do you think? Let me know if I’m right or wrong, please!

1 comment:

  1. I am a teacher. I graduated high school 5th in my class. I went to the University of Florida and finished my degree at the University of North Florida. I finished with a 3.5 GPA in college. I haven't looked, but I would guess that would not place me in the bottom third. I love teaching. I hate the micromanagement. My students learn. Let me teach.