by June Ahn (ahnjune.com)
The big buzzword these days is teacher quality. It is at the center of President Obama’s education reform agenda, and is the battle ground between so-called reformers vs. progressives. Within this context, understanding how teachers matter for student learning is a paramount concern right now.
In my morning reading I came across this recent article in Science. (Find the article here) The researchers studied pairs of twins in Florida, some of which had different teachers in elementary school. The benefit of studying twins is we can assume that the twins have some definite % of identical genes (i.e. identical twins are 100% similar). The researchers then measured the “quality” of the twins teachers, and other life circumstances. I’m amazed because using this strategy we might be able to discern what the contribution of good teachers are to student achievement, versus genetics versus life circumstances. What did the researchers find?
Technically, they found that teacher quality moderates genetic influence on students literacy test scores. In real-world terms, this means that:
- If we assume that different children have different genetic potential for learning,
- Having a bad teacher, limits that genetic potential. Most students show little variability in their literacy learning, they all do bad.
- Having a good teacher, opens up that genetic potential. Students with good teachers show larger variability that is largely accounted for by their genetic background… that is, students who are more likely to succeed do succeed.
- Important to note, other environmental factors were also significantly related to student achievement.
The lesson in all of this?? Good teachers matter — having bad teachers severely limits students from reaching their potential. Please press onward President Obama. The other lessons from all of this? Genes might determine one’s potential for learning or achieving — but life circumstances (i.e. teachers and one’s environment) determine whether or not we reach that potential. Let’s give students good teachers but also good life environments. Let’s reform teacher recruitment, training, and compensation but let’s also address issues such as poverty.