CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Education Audit says it not once but twice: Having effective teachers rises to the top of every study of factors determining student success, and research and best practice clearly show that the best predictor of student achievement is effective teachers.
Many commentators agree:
* Andrew N. Liveris, chairman and CEO, The Dow Chemical Co., in his book Make It In America says "The most decisive factor in student achievement [is] the quality of the teacher in front of [the classroom]."
* Bill Gates is quoted by Liveris as saying, "[W]hen each of the variables under a school's control is correlated with student achievement, the teacher is the one that makes the biggest difference -- and that difference can be dramatic."
* Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in <I>That Used To Be Us<P> write "The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of the teachers."
* McKinsey & Co. in "Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching" (September 2010) writes "Research shows that of all the controllable factors influencing student achievement, the most important by far is the effectiveness of the classroom teacher."
According to McKinsey, the U.S. initiatives, unlike the world's top-performing school systems, have sought "to improve the effectiveness of teachers already in the classroom, not to upgrade the caliber of young people entering the profession."
"Top-performing [school systems] such as Singapore, Finland and South Korea have made a different choice. ... " They recruit leading academic talent, "top third students," to teaching careers and then "rigorously screen students on other qualities they believe to be predictors of teaching success," according to McKinsey.
* "Prior to 2000, Finland rarely, if ever, appeared on anyone's list of the world's most outstanding education systems." Nine years later, in 2009, its students' reading, math and science performances on PISA that year ranked either second or third among the world's school systems, says Surpassing Shanghai, a book edited by Marc S. Tucker.
(For an excellent survey of the Finnish public-school system, see Pasi Sahlberg's Finnish Lessons.)
While officials in top-performing countries have little doubt that recruiting teachers from the top third is critical to their success, the story is different in the United States. It "attracts most of its teachers from the bottom two-thirds of college classes, with nearly half coming from the bottom third, especially for schools in poor neighborhoods," according to McKinsey.
Tucker observes that "[o]rganizations that care about the quality of their workforce know that the single most important factor in that calculus is the character of the pool from which it recruits. No private firm, much less an entire industry, would prefer to recruit its professional staff from the least-able college graduates if it could do better than that."