I’ve followed with interest the progress of an ongoing Los Angeles Times project investigating and reporting on the effectiveness of the city’s schools and teachers.

Since launching last year they’ve been analysing the last eight years’ maths and English test scores and an array of other classroom data, all of which has been helpfully collected and filed by the Los Angeles School District but never actually put to use.

Individual teachers, they found, make an impact on students’ performance three times greater than that of the schools they opt to attend. Students lucky enough to have teachers in the top 10 percent of effectiveness can expect to be 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in maths, on average, than those unfortunates stuck with teachers in the bottom 10 percent.

Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times’ analysis could find only a very small correlation between the level of experience, education and training teachers had and their ability to educate effectively. They found instead that good teachers varied hugely in age, style and personality, although they did all tend to set high standards, promote critical thinking and maintain a semblance of order in the classroom. 

The New Zealand public school system – like Los Angeles’ – ties teachers’ salaries to their levels of education and experience, factors easily gauged and processed by a central bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the factors that make some teachers great are not so easily computed, and as a result our system consistently fail to recognise and reward the teachers who actually provide the best value to students.

We have a pressing need for better quality educators for the thousands of children who are underachieving at schools throughout New Zealand.  As in most other professions, principals and parents/students, ie the managers and customers, are surely best placed to gauge the success and effectiveness of teachers. It’s high time individual schools and principals were given the freedom and responsibility to pay top rates to top-performing teachers and attract more, much-needed bright young talent to the profession.



  1. If only it were so simple. The LAT ‘project’ has been widely denigrated by academics, commentators, and – yes – unions, for using inaccurate data to create damaging tables. One very good teacher even commited suicide after receiving poor ratings on the LAT site – his problem was that he worked with the children of gang members on the LA Southside, devoted his life to keeping these children out of crime, but this didn’t show up on the stats. Read the following for an insight into how the corporate sector is using dodgy data so it can make big profits from public education –
    It’s also worth noting that Rupert Murdoch has jumped on the bandwagon of denigrating teachers in the public sector – at the same time as he’s setting up a new business designed to make money out of public education.

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