Wingspread Journal: The Isolated Teacher

Michael Connolly

The Johnson Foundation
Education 2005

The new Wingspread Journal has a series of articles that focus on improving teacher quality. One interesting case study review, "What We Can Learn from the Chinese," compares American and Chinese fifth-grade classrooms. Compared to American teachers, the Chinese sample school's teachers were paid substantially less, had class sizes more than twice that of American classrooms, and were often only high school graduates - yet their students performed at much higher levels than American students. Why? The authors attribute it to teacher training and quality. Chinese teachers are experts in their core subject (often performing research or collaborating with university scholars) and spend only one to two hours a day teaching it. More time is then spent correcting homework and providing feedback. In contrast, American teachers often teach multiple subjects, which diminishes their subject knowledge and instructional effectiveness. The authors, however, insert a confusing complaint about Chinese national standards and national exams for university, which put "enormous pressures on students and teachers." Might it be that these tough standards create a culture where students are competing through their entire education and thus driven to learn? The study concludes, "American teachers are more prepared and have more resources to obtain high student achievement than Chinese teachers. We can stop complaining about the lack of resources or large class size. What we need is a fundamental rethinking and restructuring of the American classroom." You can read this study and the rest of the articles here.