The Quarterback Problem
I highly recommend an article in last week’s New Yorker magazine for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of the challenges facing our education system. Or just for anyone who cares to read about how difficult it is for professional football scouts to predict which college quarterbacks will perform well in the National Football League. You’ll be surprised to see how the two topics are related.
Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference; Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking; and Outliers: The Story of Success, begins with a scout trying to determine whether Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel has the tools to be a successful pro quarterback. Of course, the answer is that nobody knows, but despite this ignorance, NFL franchises guarantee tens of millions of dollars to untested signal callers in hopes that they have found the proverbial needle in the haystack.
How does this relate to education? It is just as impossible to predict which aspiring teachers will turn out to be effective in the classroom, yet public schools across the nation are similarly forced to make long-term commits to teachers before they have any idea of whether they have what it takes to help kids learn. As with the NFL, the stakes are very high because research has shown that the quality of a student’s teacher has an enormous influence on that student’s learning — far more than factors such as class size or facilities, or even a school’s overall reputation. But because of agreements struck with teachers’ unions, most public schools find it very difficult to terminate teachers that prove to be ineffective. Thus, a few poor hiring decisions can cripple a school’s efforts to teach its students.
Gladwell’s article offers amazing insight into these challenges, and even proposes a few novel solutions that might make it easier for our nation’s schools to identify and retain the talented teachers who are vital to our children’s educational success. You owe it to yourself to give this article a read.