To the Editor:
Louis V. Gerstner Jr. bases his case for reforms in teacher education on the claim that “the quality of classroom educators is the single biggest driver of student learning” (“An Education Reform Agenda for the Next Four Years—and Beyond,” Commentary, Jan. 5, 2005). But it does not follow that good teachers guarantee good schools, as he argues.
California serves as a case in point. Although five times as many underprepared teachers teach in high-poverty schools in the state as do in schools serving the affluent, increasing the number of highly qualified teachers in these schools over the years has not made a significant dent in the persistent achievement gap, according to a report released in mid-December by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.
In 1999, 22 percent of teachers in California schools with the poorest students lacked a credential. Today, the rate is down to 12 percent. Yet in 2004, fewer than half the state’s 6,500 public schools met their improvement goals, down from 78 percent the previous year.
How does Mr. Gerstner explain these counterintuitive but incontrovertible facts? If teachers packed the power that he maintains, then student achievement would surely have risen. It didn’t, because the single factor that most undermines the effectiveness of teachers of any caliber is the unremitting intrusion into the classroom of social pathologies. Even superteachers are not the miracle workers he claims.
Mr. Gerstner is on even thinner ice when he discusses the appalling teacher-turnover rate in high-poverty schools. Teachers enter the profession because they want to teach. They do not want to be parent, police, or psychologist. The churning will continue even if salaries are supplemented for those willing to teach in the inner cities, where the need for the best and the brightest is greatest. Teachers in public schools are not like employees in corporations, which is the only world that Mr. Gerstner knows.
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the January 26, 2005 edition of Education Week as Even ‘Superteachers’ Aren’t Miracle Workers