Thursday, July 5, 2012

More physics...Einstein and teaching

With all the Higgs Boson excitement, I have had  physics on the brain lately.  Thus when Instapundit linked to this article from NPR, regarding how Einstein would not have been qualified to teach high school physics, I was intrigued.

The article is a rant against (some) licensing standards.  Licensing standards are really just performance metrics, which does make them an interesting study in data and outcomes.  Teaching is a particularly tricky profession to measure outcomes in, as every attempt to standardize (SATs, MCAS, etc) is typically met with objections about what real learning is.

I was fascinated by the Einstein question though.  While I certainly like Einstein, I was wondering if I'd really have wanted him as a physics teacher.  When I took psych stats in grad school, I averaged 107% in the class (there was lots of extra credit), but I was probably the worst resource there.  I can't explain basic stats worth anything to people, because it comes naturally.  That's why I like critiquing news's much easier to explain what's wrong with something when you have an example in front of you.  Explaining a t-test from scratch though?  I'll leave that to the professionals.

Aside from that, the study the NPR post points to is pretty interesting.  It compares licensed, unlicensed and alternatively credentialed teachers from NYC.  Interestingly, the most significant factor in teacher effectiveness tended to be years of experience (in the first few years) instead of credentialing.  All the differences however, were evaluated based on standardized testing scores, which may or may not be something you agree with as a metric.  Still, a fairly interesting and comprehensive look at the issue, if your interested in education metrics.

Update:  The purpose of education and outcome metrics are going to become increasingly important if this catches on (and I hope it does).


  1. My grandfather had Robert Frost as an English teacher at Pinkerton Academy in 1912. Didn't think he was very good.

  2. This topic becomes more interesting now that we have a couple of teachers in the immediate family. What makes your brother a good teacher with only 3 years under his belt? The hiring person in Bedford said that she liked the fact that he was innovative. How long can one stay innovative? He has worked hard at it. Once he is in the same school system for a number of years, does he then know what works and what doesn't and the formula stays the same? Do different things work with different groups? A high school teacher sees a "new generation" of students every 4 years. It is a tricky area and, as you say, difficult to measure. As for Robert Frost, that observation doesn't surprise me for the reasons Bethany stated about Einstein and herself - just cause he can write poetry doesn't mean he can teach it!

  3. A cousin of mine had a Nobel prize winner for a grad school science class. The Nobel prize winner was not a good lecturer.

  4. Should I be allowed to choose to take a course taught by an Einstein, a Nobel prize winner, or a renowned poet? Should a school be allowed to hire such a person? Perhaps we can't trust a high school principle to make such a difficult decision. Is it best to leave the decision to legislators, in consultation with the NEA?

    The legislative route provides a uniform solution (one size fits all), and can not consider a particular set of circumstances. What if Einstein was a fun, enthusiastic, and effective teacher? What if teachers in adjacent classrooms had the first aid training that Einstein lacked? Maybe a "qualified" teacher could sit-in with Al; I'm sure many would jump at the chance.

    The law does not support discretionary judgment. That is one of the many reasons why collective decision making through law is an inadequate substitute for individual freedom.