To the Editor:
In the article “Teachers Achieving ‘Highly Qualified’ Status on the Rise” (June 11, 2008), you report that a common and long-standing complaint among education observers is that the data on teachers deemed “highly qualified” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act “do not reflect student-performance gains, which makes it difficult to say how effective the teachers really are. The federal requirements ... are just a minimum standard for teacher quality.”
The key words in this statement are “effective” and “quality.” The two are not synonymous, and to assume that a qualified teacher will be an effective one is erroneous. According to the NCLB law, a qualified teacher is someone who: (1) has a college degree, (2) has a major in the subject taught or can demonstrate subject-matter knowledge, and (3) meets any state licensure or certification requirements. It is commendable that 94 percent of the nation’s classrooms are taught by qualified teachers. But students do not learn from qualified teachers; they learn from effective ones.
“Effective” is defined as having an effect or producing a result. There is only one way to improve student learning, and the research is very specific: Students learn from effective teachers. But when we look at the daily news in education, all we see are administrators and policymakers making one structural change after another, such as creating smaller schools, smaller classrooms, and new testing programs. Structural changes do not improve student achievement; effective teachers do. Thus, the major responsibility of a district is to recruit highly qualified teachers and then train, not mentor, them to be effective.
Harry K. Wong
A version of this article appeared in the July 16, 2008 edition of Education Week as Is a ‘Qualified’ Teacher Always an ‘Effective’ One?