Should educational reformers focus on fixing the abysmal outcomes in America’s worst classes? Or, emulating Finland as West Virginia is trying to do, should we be reinforcing the best teachers?
Frankly, a policy that focuses on getting rid of the few percent of teachers who are just disasters and even policies that close the worst few schools…well, that kind of policy doesn’t cost much. Doing the right things–paying teachers top salaries and making them respected professionals–does cost some money.
But the difference between Finnish schools and American schools is much more than that the Finn’s fixed their bottom end. Finnish school kids beat American school kids bottom, middle, and top.
Here’s a picture of math PISA scores from the OECD. I’ve added the arrows on the left and on the right.
I fear the focus on eliminating that arrow on the lower left, the truly awful bottom of American performance comes at the cost of ignoring the arrow at the upper right. Perhaps reformers should be talking more about strengthening what succeeds and less about fixing what fails.
By the way, resources for those interested: