I am just back from a wonderful week-long vacation in California (I finished my first marathon! Don’t ask my time. Let’s just say I finished). Anyway, May is a great time for education stories, so I anticipate slightly more frequent posting until my book (168 Hours) comes out May 27 and things get crazy.
On today’s agenda: more evidence of the fact that teachers matter. None of us particularly likes standardized testing. But as the movement to tie children’s test scores to individual schools and teachers heats up, researchers are finding some fascinating things in the data this movement is producing.
First, twins are often assigned to different classrooms. This creates a natural experiment, since identical twins in particular have the same genes, and most likely the same home environment. So if they’re in the same school but separate classes, then at least some of any difference can likely be attributed to the experience they’re having in their classrooms.
In general, according to a new study from Florida State University, this turns out to be pretty much the same experience. Genes and home environment are most predictive of educational outcomes. But in cases where twins strongly diverge in their reading ability, in many cases, their teachers also have divergent quality ratings. This reinforces previous findings that differences in schools between great teachers and awful teachers are often bigger than between schools.
A whole industry of researchers is currently trying to isolate what makes a “great” teacher. But another recent study found one thing that definitely does not: anxiety about math. According to a study from the University of Chicago, girls whose female early elementary school teachers feel most anxious about their math abilities pass this belief – that math is something boys do – on to their pupils. That’s a problem since elementary education majors apparently have the highest levels of math anxiety of any college students. I'm not sure what to do about that except that, over time, our society needs to start believing that teaching, like engineering, is a math-intensive field, and requires a high level of competence. It is not a field for people who aren't "numbers people."