Wednesday, December 13, 2006

60 or 20 or 8.5?

On Wednesday morning NPR turns its business sights on education. Featured is RAND author and academic researcher Dan Goldhaber. Renee Montagne notes that Goldhaber's research "says the link between teacher quality and student performance is so critical, schools have to experiment with ways to encourage better teaching..." Larry Abramson then begins the report by saying , "For a long time school systems have paid more to teachers with advanced degrees or lots of experience but education researcher Dan Goldaber of the University of Washington says there’s still no reason to believe that approach will boost student achievement." This is followed immediately by Goldhaber telling us, "Seems like the best way to figure out the quality of a teacher is based on her or his performance in the classroom, and if you want to reward that characteristic then you have to look at somehow linking pay to their performance."

What is interesting in all this is that if you look into Goldhaber's research, you'll find that even he admits that "students’ socioeconomic background was a far more influential factor" in student achievement. In fact, from a presentation Goldhaber gave in Minnesota, it would appear that this socioeconomic factor represents 60% of the influence, while all the variables that schools can control represent 20%! Then within this 20% of influence on student achievement, teacher quality accounts for about 40% - and the percent of "teacher quality" that can be measured is only 3%.

What is glaringly obvious is that "teacher quality," while important, is small (Goldhaber's research puts it a 8.5% of effect on student achievement) in comparison to the whopping 60% effect of socioeconomic factors. So the obvious solution for better education is to find ways of improving the socioeconomic health of the nation (more just income distribution, universal healthcare, available childcare, etc). Instead NPR and Goldhaber keep the focus on the idea that the best solution is merit pay for teachers (with that pay attached to student performance on standardized tests). So once again, it is teachers - and especially those pesky teachers' unions - that are the targets for curing the shortcomings of our public education system. God forbid we question the basic social and economic structures of our society, that might smack of class analysis!


Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis! Particularly effective are your citations of Goldhaber's own research that undercuts his contention that "linking pay to their performance" would have any significant effect on the overall quality of education.

willie mink said...

I agree, excellent points! They deserve wider dissemination--publish this elsewhere! Counterpunch or Commondreams, for starters. Your blog is a valuable service, an island of sanity, thank you.