A little philosophy saves a lot of $

This headline recently caught my eye: “Using Research to Predict Great Teachers.”  Here is the link:  http://www.hepg.org/hel/article/501

It reminded me of the 1990s, when school districts used the Teacher- and Administrator-Perceiver Instruments to hire teachers and principals.  According to the developers, research found that “effective” teachers and principals used certain words more frequently than “ineffective” ones.

During that period I had several interviews for principalships.  Administrator-Perceiver trained teams used a script to interview me and count the number of times I used the exact word used by supposedly “effective” principals.   According to my brother-in-law, former Associate Superintendent for Human Resources in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, this instrument worked well for hiring teachers and principals.  It is 20 years later.  Can anybody point me to the evidence for that belief?

The  Harvard Education Letter (HEL) article describes a new approach to hiring “great” teachers:

In the e-mail exercise, applicants are asked to respond to an email from a fictional parent who is upset with her son’s biweekly progress reports, which show he is doing poorly in reading. “Please let me know what thoughts you have on what my son can do to turn things around,” says a sample prompt released by the 3D Group. The real prompt given to candidates might be even more “accusatory” says Andrew English, a senior consultant for 3D.

English says he was impressed by how much the e-mail exercise revealed. “It taps into the ability of the teacher to deal with an upset parent in a way that shows sensitivity and the ability to admit mistakes and not be defensive,” says English. The task also calls on “the ability to reflect on the situation and to see the bigger picture,” he says . . .

“Literally, we are predicting teacher performance,” he says.

The six-virtue definition of the educated person predicts performance, too.  That is the point of having a deep, useful definition of “educated” — to know the virtues we want young people to develop; which are, therefore, the virtues modeled by great teachers.

The HEL description of good responses to the “unhappy parent email” illustrates that great teachers develop and demonstrate understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity:

to deal with an upset parent in a way that shows sensitivity [understanding, imagination, generosity, and humility], and the ability to admit mistakes and not be defensive” [strong character, courage, and that “humility thing” again], says English. The task also calls on “the ability to reflect on the situation and to see the bigger picture [understanding and imagination].”

If we define “educated” in a deep, useful way, we don’t need research findings or 3D consultants.

Unfortunately, our current, aphilosophical approach to improving schools causes us to think we need both.  Aphilosophical citizens elect aphilosophical policymakers to hire aphilosophical consulting and publishing firms to use the findings of aphilosophical researchers to tell aphilosophical teachers and administrators how to improve their schools.  In this case 3D marketers convince district administrators that their instruments and training are based on research findings that can be used to hire “great” teachers.

There is good news and bad news here.   The good news is philosophical thinking provides us with a definition of “educated” that can be used to hire great teachers — and it is free.  The bad news is district administrators are paying for what is free.  As funds for education are being cut, how do taxpayers like that one?



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