The Washington Post

Teach Plus changes Web site to reflect reality

Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly attributed something to President Obama. (What was included was part of another paragraph and not an actual quote.) His original words are now in this post.

Today the nonprofit organization Teach Plus, which was highlighted in a New York Times story over the weekend about the influence of Bill Gates in education reform, changed its “Why We Exist” statement on its Web site in regard to the importance of teachers in student success.

Previously, the statement said:

“Research makes clear that teachers are the most important variable in student success, yet the profession is not organized to reward excellence, promote teacher development, or retain top performers in the classroom.”

Research actually doesn’t show that; decades of studies show that home-based factors, especially the education level of a child’s mother, has the most influence on student achievement. Teachers may be the significant factor in student progress in the school building.

I asked Celine Coggins, chief executive officer, about this and she immediately corrected the Web site page to say:

Research makes clear that teachers are the most important school-based variable in student success, yet the profession is not organized to reward excellence, promote teacher development, or retain top performers in the classroom.

Teach Plus, supported by a $4,010,611 grant awarded in 2009 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” takes positions on school reform in line with those taken by Gates, including the importance of linking standardized student test scores to teacher evaluation.

Teach Plus is hardly the only place where you can hear the line that teachers are the most important issue in student success.

For example, former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, in an article in the latest Atlantic magazine, wrote this about President Obama:

“While out-of-school environment certainly affects student achievement, President Obama was on to something in 2008 when he said, ‘The single most important factor in determining [student] achievement is not the color of [students’] skin or where they come from. It’s not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is.’ ”

But Obama is careful to qualify this statement in a way that Klein didn’t.

He said to the Urban League in July 2010:

“The whole premise of Race to the Top is that teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s education from the moment they step into the classroom.”

He said in an open letter attached to his Blueprint for Reform:

“W e know that from the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents—it is the teacher standing at the front of the classroom.”

Teach Plus knew this. That’s why the Web site got changed in a hurry.

This all begs the question: Why doesn’t federal and state education policy more reflect this reality?

This isn’t to say that reform should not address improving the teaching profession (though not by linking test scores to teacher evaluation) and the issue of how to get bad teachers out of the classroom with responsible but not mind-numbingly long due process.

But it is to say that teachers are not solely responsible for whether a child succeeds academically, and shouldn’t be judged that way.


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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.


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