Front and center on the main page of today’s Post is a long piece revealing that the poorest schools in the region also tend to have more inexperienced teachers than those in better neighborhoods.
In addition, turnover in those schools is also higher with openings usually “filled by more new teachers”.
There’s nothing in the article that will surprise anyone.
So, what should be done to fix the problem? Higher pay or other incentives to attract more experienced teachers? Better mentoring programs to support new teachers?
None of that according to Jay Mathews. What these schools need is “energy more than experience”.
Schools improve when their cultures change, not when their ratios of experienced and unexperienced teachers are recalculated. Schools in poor neighborhoods having the most success are those put in the hands of talented principals given the power to hire and fire their staffs to enhance achievement, and who use those powers to create a building-wide commitment to improving learning through teamwork. Such principals pick new teachers not so much on their experience, but on their energy and focus and imagination. The data show that after the one or two tough initial years in the classroom, when teacher effectiveness in general is not very good, experience is not a useful marker of which teachers are best for a school. Other factors influence classroom effectivness after the first three years, and that is what good schools should focus on.
There’s something in Mathews’ logic that doesn’t work for me.
Unfortunately, those “one or two tough initial years in the classroom” means that the students with those teachers are poorly served for one or two years.
A higher ratio of experienced to beginning teachers opens more mentoring opportunities to help those just getting started to develop their skills.
It also allows that “talented principal” to be more creative in teaming new and veteran teachers to provide better educational support for the kids.