Teaching: It ain’t easy
In regards to your editorial, (“Do We Really Need High-Quality Teaching?” Jan. 13): As a teacher with 11 years experience, on top of 20 years in engineering, I concur that the quality of a teacher may not be at the top of the list of critical factors in learning. That list also contains: parent(s), socio-economics, ethnicity, English-language proficiency, peers, stability, disability, motivation, I.Q., politics, and school facilities. And many of these factors, if not most, are well beyond the influence of any single teacher. Even skilled teachers, those who are experts in their subject matter, may achieve little success with some students.

 

I have found that there is no correlation between the time spent preparing, delivering instruction in class, designing assessments, mentoring students, communicating with administration, special education, guidance, parents, and the success of a student in my class, much less in all their classes. Some students succeed regardless of my shortcomings. Some do not, regardless of the herculean efforts on my part and others.

You say “good teachers do indeed affect the amounts their students can eventually earn over the course of their careers,” according to a Stanford University study. The research “suggests” higher math scores in school equal higher earnings. I’m not sure I would equate earnings with success. I consider myself a fairly successful teacher and person, even though I earn less now than when I was in engineering. Some notorious hedge-fund managers earned fortunes recently. Are they successful? I’d say their education was actually lacking. No one ever taught them humility, honesty, or morality. Oh wait, those aren’t on standardized tests.

The Stanford study, by an economist (no offense), uses standardized test results to measure ability. Countless research studies indicate that standardized tests, particularly “high-stakes” tests, show greater correlation between high scores and ethnicity or family income than with academic ability. So the wealthier the family or community, the higher the score.

Study author Professor Hanushek then made the leap to draw a direct correlation between an above-average teacher and increased earnings of his or her students. Again, I feel other factors are more responsible for the child’s future earning or success. But Hanushek would eliminate teachers based on student test scores.

A teacher who is disproportionately assigned students who don’t speak English or have learning disabilities, or those that are behaviorally difficult or reluctant, abused or homeless because he or she is adept with such students, may need to work miracles just to bring them up to “proficient” on standard tests. But this teacher should be eliminated because the students do not score higher?

In my CADD class, I have students who see no value at all in a high-school education, who have no interest in the subject matter, or who believe life is all about video games or texting. I have no control over any of the factors that contribute to such a attitudes but I am expected to undo them. I consider it a major achievement if I can just keep some of them in school. But as that is not a useful metric, I am not deemed “high quality” by your standards.

To those out there who just don’t believe me or think teaching is a cake walk, you try it. Spend your next vacation week as a substitute teacher in your local public high school. Spend your weekends and evenings grading papers, planning instruction, and fabricating engaging activities. Stay a few hours after school organizing materials, troubleshooting your computer, attending meetings, and calling nonreachable parents. Then ask yourself why so many promising, bright, high-quality teachers leave for an easier, more lucrative career.

Thanks for listening – I feel better.

Anthony P. Adamczyk

How we got here
Several respondents to a recent editorial (“The Dark Side of Free Trade,” Nov. 4) do well in describing the symptoms the U. S. is suffering through, but there is little analysis of the causes. My observations suggest that World War II was the prime mover in leading us into our present mess.

After World War II, the U. S. and U. S. S. R. were the only two industrial nations left standing. Europeans were devastated, and they consumed rather than contributed. American workers, on the other hand, survived the war and were primed to produce. Without competition, we were pretty much able to name our terms, both from the corporate and the labor sides. And we treated ourselves very well.

Then, with our technical and financial aid and their low-cost labor, Japan and Korea became competitive. Europe, particularly Germany, rebuilt and rejoined the global economy with high-quality goods. And finally, the colossus, China, learned the game and added a seemingly endless supply of low-cost, quality labor. Meanwhile, in the U. S., quality stagnated or fell while costs kept going up.

The good old days are behind us. Looking back and trying to bring the old days back is just a waste of time. The Government can’t make us intrinsically competitive, though it can compromise our competitiveness by promising easy answers. In the end, there’s really no one to blame but ourselves.

Tom O’Rourke

Is it really 35%
A recent news item (“Zinc-Air Fuel Cell Provides More Benefits than Lithium-Ion Batteries,” Oct. 7) says that the U. S. has 35% of the world’s supply of zinc. I’ve checked several other sources and they quote a significantly lower number percentage. I wanted to use the percentage stated in your article and I would appreciate your confirmation of the source.

Michael Burz

We put the news item together based on information from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Mr. Burz’s letter prompted us to call the lab about the figure. Their spokesperson sent the following reply:

It appears that our information is wrong. Apparently, the 35% figure for zinc reserves is correct, but it’s for all of North America, including Canada and Mexico, not the U. S. alone. The figure for the U. S. percentage of zinc reserves appears to be “close to 20%.”
— Steve Wampler

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