Monday, December 27, 2010

Attribution Error and the Quest for Teacher Quality

This post may be of limited "classroom" use to everyone, but I thought it was an intriguing example of an application of social psychological principles. In her article "Attribution Error and the Quest for Teacher Quality" (Educational Researcher, 39 (8), pg. 591) Mary Kennedy argues that many researchers investigating "teacher quality" may be committing the fundamental attribution error.

Dr. Kennedy's explanation and support for this idea are fleshed out very clearly in the article, but here's a quick summary of the basic idea: Researchers looking into "teacher quality" primarily use data about personal characteristics (e.g. years of experience, certifications received, degrees attained, licensure test scores, etc.) as variables in studying teacher quality. They rarely (ever?) include situational factors (available resources, planning time, intrusions into instructional time, etc.) in their research. Kennedy says "We study teachers' credentials because we can . . . Researchers are limited by the circumstances of their funding agencies, which may hesitate to pay the cost of gathering these difficult to define and difficult to measure variables."

What are the implications of the error in this context? I suspect no one knows, but until Teacher Quality studies include situational factors, can researchers really claim to know what factors are associated with "good teaching"?

posted by Rob McEntarffer

1 comment:

Chuck Schallhorn said...

Just intuitively, I must agree. Just like my administrators, they focus upon what they can "control" without examining honestly the whole picture. Families, community attitudes toward education, family circumstance, school culture, socio-economic status of many/most of the students, and more all contribute to success in a classroom. Certainly great teachers can overcome some of the negative aspects of the school culture, but how much teacher burnout (of potentially great teachers) is because of battling uphill against such forces. Having taught in multiple kinds of schools, I can assure you there is an incredible difference. I have to work much harder/smarter in a school that is a lower SES than at a higher SES school where most students will succeed in spite of and because of their teachers. I'd love for my administrators and school board not to be in denial about all the factors that contribute to success and the lack of success of our kids.