Teacher effectiveness debate: good schools attract good teachers

The ‘good teachers make all the difference’ research is now driving edu-investment.  The theory goes: make good teachers, schools get better. 

I hold the opposite theory: good schools make good teachers.  Or, more specifically, get the employment bargain and job right, and you’ll attract and retain high quality talent. 

US education has employment all wrong.  Here’s how it works in most places and what good looks like.


·          Now: Most school districts recruit late and do little screening

·          Good:  Early recruiting with extensive screening for aptitude and attitude


·          Now: Lifetime employment

·          Good: one year contracts; 3-5 year contracts for master teachers


·          Now: lock-step, back-loaded, retirement oriented

·          Good: competitive and differentiated entry pay, rapid path to $75k for top performers that want more responsibility, $100k for teacher leaders

Preparation and certification

·          Now: worthless university certification that has little to do with the job

·          Good: summer orientation plus job embedded coaching and training for two years

Working conditions

·          Now: isolated and prescribed by minute

·          Good: do what it takes as team member in a place with a clear mission

The ‘good’ conditions change the pool of candidates from bottom third to top third of college grads.  High Tech High in San Diego gets top talent because it’s a great place to work.

The ‘more good teachers’ folks are about to get buckets of money from the feds and foundations—and that’s not all bad but lots of new recruits are going to get stuck in dysfunctional schools, get frustrated, and leave.   In the mean time, great charter operators are getting screwed.  They’re already reeling from budget cuts but are positioned to open hundreds of great new schools and model the ‘good’ employment bargain outlined above. 

You may have noticed that I didn’t include performance pay or bonuses on my list.  I just don’t think we know about how to do this in education.  It’s hard enough to get a bonus system right in the private sector where better performance yields more money to pay bonuses.  I’m glad there are folks working on it but I’m not optimistic.  Research seems to indicate that effective leadership and a sane environment are more important than bonuses. 

The place to work the teacher effectiveness issue is at the state level but I’m not sure there are any governors willing to take on the status quo and create the new education employment bargain (they’ve admittedly got their hands full fending off bankruptcy).  They could at least let a few more successful charters expand so we have more examples of how good schools make good teachers. 

(first appeared on HuffPost)

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Has Tom VanderArk been through a university-situated teacher certification pre-service program?
Has he gone through the syllabi of all the courses in such a program?
How many class sessions in such a program has he sat through?
How is he the least bit qualified to criticisize these programs? Why should anyone believe that his criticism of pre-service programs is the appropriate criticism?
The fact that pre-service teacher training is insufficient to ensure good teachers/teaching doesn't mean that the content has little to do with the job, and unless/until Vander Ark does a thorough review of teacher ed programs -- or at least one large or well respected one -- he should supply some basis for his complaints.


Tom Vander Ark

Never been through a cert program, you're right. But the data seems to indicate that most don't make much difference in effectiveness. Most districts/charter networks report that most new teachers require a good deal of retraining. I'm a fan of district/network specific preparation that prepares teachers for specific roles.


This theme is very relevant and interesting to many people.

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