At the very heart of the education mystery


Apart from the influence of family during a child’s school years, what matters most to the success of any education program?

What matter most are good teachers, not school committee members, administrators, iPads, the latest digital learning software, the size of the class, and not even the amount of money spent per student in any school system.

It’s all about the teachers and their ability to transform the children in front of them into committed learners. It’s a gift whose rewards are immense for successful teachers, though not financially — largely because too many pennies of every dollar a community like this one spends to educate about 2,200 kids get spent on all the things that don’t matter so much.

Do we know who are the good teachers and who are not? Only haphazardly, anecdotally, not systematically or conclusively. And, is there a sturdy, concrete system to reward the best teachers, improve the performance of poor teachers, and eject the ones who do not succeed? There is not, although, admittedly and sadly, in fact such a measurement protocol is difficult to devise and doubly difficult to enforce.

This page has often argued that the cumbersome, demanding, and relentless MCAS testing regimen has led to real improvement in the performance of teachers and their students. It is flawed and deficient for our purposes, but despite withering and relentless criticism, MCAS testing has nevertheless raised standards and in turn inspired teachers and education leaders to inspire their charges.

As Times writer Janet Hefler reports this morning, a new evaluation system imposed by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), will link student learning and teacher practice to performance ratings for administrators, from superintendents to principals, and to teachers.

Recently, Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools superintendent James Weiss explained that the Vineyard schools have been building a better evaluation system, “focused upon helping teachers become better at their craft.”

But, the new state requirements aim at the problem differently.

“There is a lot more to it, but what it does is look at the craft of teaching, the art of teaching, having the right skills, and connects that with student learning, as demonstrated by various kinds of data or test scores, so it directly connects the act of teaching with student learning,” Mr. Weiss told Ms. Hefler.

That connection is absolutely the indispensible one.