Monday, August 22, 2011

1997 Studey Reveals the Power of Mediocrity in the classroom

As the new school year starts, millions of parents across this country are hoping their child will have an excellent teacher to help guide them through their new classes. However, never research into the data from a 1997 study of Dallas schoolchildren by Last Stand for Children First shows that a mediocre teacher may be better.

The 1997 study "Teacher Effects on Longitudinal Student Achievement" was not only a real page turner, this landmark Dallas study by Jordan, Mendro, and Weerasinghe has been frequently cited in the media by education reformers as evidence that a student who has 2 superior teachers in a row will probably go on to greatness, while a student will two poor teachers in a row, will probably be going through parks with a pointy stick looking for soda cans to sell to recyclers. Michelle Rhee in particular enjoys using this quote to show just how important great teachers are.

In a recent study funded by Last Stand for Children First and conducted at the Ponds Institute of Statistical Research has concluded that in the 1997 study who had 2 excellent teachers and one mediocre teacher in consecutive years showed a median score 8% higher than a student who had 3 excellent teachers in a row. This is groundbreaking research conducted on thousands of children, but little is known as to why mediocrity has such power.

Researchers conjecture that a mediocre teacher gives students a chance to relax, nap and generally catch a breath or possibly that mediocre teachers enhance the ability of students to develop filters to figure out what their teachers are saying that is actually important enough to listen to.

For more information on this landmark study, please see the following blog post, which while written from an anti-reform perspective summarizes the methodology very well and provides a link to the raw data itself.

What the data does show is that elevating the teaching profession and attracting excellent candidates and nurturing them to  become excellent teachers may not be the best strategy in increasing student learning.  Further study is needed to examine the negative impact of further excellent pedagogy on a student who has already had too many excellent teachers.  It also seems clear in layoff decisions, mediocre teachers need to be preserved as a priority, especially in a school that already has an issue with too many excellent ones.

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