Tips For Teachers

Documenting Classroom Management

How to Write Effective Progress Reports

Building Relational Trust

"Making Lessons Sizzle"

Marsha Ratzel: Taking My Students on a Classroom Tour

Marsha Ratzel on Teaching Math

David Ginsburg: Coach G's Teaching Tips

The Great Fire Wall of China

As my regular readers know, I am writing from China these days, and have been doing so four years so far. Sometimes the blog becomes inaccessible to me, making it impossible to post regularly. In fact, starting in late September 2014, China began interfering with many Google-owned entities of which Blogspot is one. If the blog seems to go dark for a while, please know I will be back as soon as I can get in again. I am sometimes blocked for many weeks at a time. I hope to have a new post up soon if I can gain access. Thank you for your understanding and loyalty.

Search This Blog

Friday, July 31, 2009

An Alternate Theory of Human Evolution?

Elaine Morgan hypothesizes that humans evolved from a water primate and laments the lack of interest and research within the scientific community.

She questions the prevailing Savannah theory because of the intriguing questions it does not answer:

1.Why are humans the only Savannah animal to walk upright?
2.Why are humans the only Savannah animal with a layer of “blubber” directly under the skin?
3.Why are humans the only “naked” Savannah animal?
4.Why are human babies born with so much fat, compared to other mammalian babies?
5.Could capacity for speech be related to the ability to control air flow similar to the control exhibited by diving birds and other water animals?

And many more questions.

She is not the only one skeptical of the Savannah theory. Many “real” scientists have developed doubts.

The Savannah theory suggests that our hominid ancestors evolved on the dry plains of Africa, and the theory still has many supporters.

In a separate BBC documentary, Mrs. Morgan graciously advises young scientists to avoid imperiling their careers over her hypothesis. If sound, she says, the theory will eventually prevail. If unsound, her theory deserves to be discarded.

Did humanity arise out of water? It has to be considered.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cellphones the New Calculators?

Dear ---,

As I understand your research proposal, it sounds like you are collecting an anthology of ways to use the IPhone as an instructional instrument.

The current cell-phone-as-tool-of-instruction discussion reminds me very much of similar discussions when calculators became ubiquitous.  Oh, lookie, lookie, we can play games and we can make upside-down words. First graders will learn place value and regrouping as they do +1 over and over watching the changes in display. We will even be able to teach chaos theory in the fourth grade.  The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics went so far as to recommend calculator use with first graders as part of their standards, but later qualified the recommendation with the words "under the guidance of a skilled math teacher."

I have compiled an extensive review of the literature on calculator use with our youngest students. The most generous conclusion is that at best calculators do no harm.  "At best" is not good enough.  The games, clever tricks and so on have not lived up to the claims. 

I am concerned we are repeating the same mistake with cellphones.  It seems you have already decided cellphones have educational potential.  Researchers are not supposed to pre-decide.  If you are assuming that cellphones will be of positive use in the classroom, then you might be laboring under an unexamined assumption.  Unexamined assumptions are often fatal flaws in research. Even professional researchers are not immune.   Another unexamined assumption I often encounter regarding cellphones is the idea that since the kids have them anyway, we might as well figure how to make use of them. However, some schools require the students to check their cell phones at the door. Or some parents exercise their parental right to deny cellphones to their children. Schools even now experience difficulty when they assume that each and every child has independent internet access at home.

It seems to me that your research topic is a worthy one, but that perhaps you should focus on designing a research study that may contribute the necessary knowledge preliminary to collecting ideas such as the one about ELL students animating their vocabulary words.

As a college professor, I do not worry too much about students having cell phones except that I expect them to be turned off in class.  If they are surreptitiously texting or playing games in their laps, and miss stuff that might show up, oh I don't know, on the midterm, that is their responsibility and they must face their own consequences.  After all, they are adults. But I worry about our responsibility to minor students.

I just finished teaching in a summer program for 4-8 grades.  They all had cell phones.  The program director had told them to turn off their cell phones during "class" but most ignored his request.  After all this wasn't school they reasoned, sometimes out loud.  They were constantly texting and playing games in their laps, and then complained that they did not get very much out of the summer program.  Parents were not happy either and thought we teachers should have disciplined their children more strictly.  Some teachers actually did discipline children, but those children often dropped the "class" of the "mean" teacher the very next day, and transferred to another "class."  Some classes escaped this problem entirely.  I mean, it is pretty hard to text and do woodworking, karate, or swimming at the same time. :-)

Good luck with your thesis.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Ugly Flip Side of Meritocracy

(paraphrased) If you believe in meritocracy, then those with the potential and work hard will reach the top, and those who deserve to be at the bottom will be at the bottom. Failure within a goal of meritocracy is much more crushing...When we think about failure, what we fear is not so much loss of money. It is fear of the judgment and ridicule of others

Alain de Botton of the School of Life was talking about success and failure, but take his premise further, and he seems to be suggesting that an education system based on what he calls the beautiful, but crazy idea of meritocracy fundamentally damages society.

It used to be that a poor person was seen as unfortunate, today a poor person is called a loser... Meritocracy is a crazy idea. The idea does not take into account the effect of all sorts of random uncontrollable events. St. Augustine said, “It is a sin to judge any man by his post,” or into today's language, it is a sin to judge someone by their business card... It would be insane to call Hamlet a loser, though he has lost.

What kind of burden are we putting on our children if we indoctrinate them to the idea that each and every one them can “reach the top?” The motivation may be pure, but what of unintended consequences? For one thing, there simply are not enough slots at the top, and for another, it is a myth that we have total control of our own outcomes.

These days there are two kinds of self-help books. The first kind tells you you can do anything, the second kind tells you how to deal with low self-esteem. That tells you something.

Our schools have the exact same dichotomy. Teachers are always on the one hand promising success to every student, as expressed in the title of a literacy program, Success for All. On the other hand, and running on a parallel track are admonitions to prevent failure because of self-esteem. Many people have observed a lack of congruence between self-esteem and genuine achievement. The students might not be very good at whatever, but they sure feel great about themselves.

It is bad enough not getting what you want. It is worse to call what other people want you to want what you want and not get that.

Okay, let's try that sentence again. If you do not decide your own goals, but let other people, that is, society determine your goals, and then adopt those outwardly imposed goals as your own and fail, that failure is worse than failing at goals you independently assign yourself. How many of us have actually examined our so-called goals and dreams under the magnifying glass of self-knowledge? Do we even know what we want, or have we so internalized externally imposed dreams that we can no longer tell the difference?

No one wants to pigeon-hole children early on. Every parent wants their child to have access to every opportunity. Labeling is dangerous precisely because once the label has been affixed, it may very well become indelible. Do we work to create a system of true equal opportunity and let the chips fall as they may? The American ideal is to educate each child to their potential, but honestly, are we actually striving for the ideal? Or do we consider the Japanese view of meritocracy, to deliver the same education to each child, and let the child make of it what they will?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Foolishness of Educational Ethnocentrism

Anytime the Japanese education system, and the advisability of adopting some of its features, comes up, most certainly voices will arise in dissent. Americans have heard somewhere that Japanese students are so driven they commit suicide in droves, that their education emphasizes rote and regurgitation, and a whole host of other negative attributes. Thusly reassured that the American system is not so bad by comparison, everyone goes back to sleep, confident that the proclaiming of some supposed negatives eliminates all positive features of the Japanese system from further consideration. What a foolish response!

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Japanese were at the top of their game in their corner of the world. Or so they thought. The Tokugawa Shogunate came into power around 1600 bringing peace and stability to what had been a land ravaged by competing warlords. Socially, class distinctions were rigidly drawn and fiercely maintained. The Shogun made the laws; punishments were severe. The Shogun, the daimyo (literally “great names”) and their samurai retainers topped the vertical social scale, followed by farmers, then craftsmen, and at the bottom, merchants, those despised handlers of “filthy lucre.” Japan experienced an economic boom, enriching especially the merchant class to the dismay of the ruling class.

Most of what Westerners admire culturally came out of this period also known as the Edo period.

The Edo period is nowadays seen as the high-water mark pf Japanese cultural tradition... Beasley, W.G. (1999). The Japanese Experience: A Short History of Japan. pg. 171
That poet laureate of haiku, Basho, wrote during the Edo period. A new kind of drama, kabuki, was first performed in Kyoto. Hokusai produced his famous woodblock print, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

Nevertheless, after a couple hundred years, Japanese society was becoming acutely stressed by the increasing disparity of wealth and especially the redistribution of wealth from the samurai class to the merchants. Contradictions and inconsistencies plagued the carefully constructed system. Throughout the Edo period the Japanese had limited interaction with other foreigners, first the Portuguese, and then the Dutch. Then one fine day in July 1853, the people beheld Commodore Perry and his Black Ships coming over the horizon. He was not well received. No matter, he would return the following year. And so he did with twice as many ships. He meant to open Japan to the West and he succeeded by threat of his greater military power. Ten years later, the threat was made real when in 1864, a coalition of four countries launched a fleet of seventeen ships which bombarded the coast at Shimonoseki to open the straits for trade.

The Japanese realized they had lost the ability to compete and set out to rectify the situation. The Japanese sent students to the West to study just about everything with a view to acquiring whatever made sense for them to adopt and adapt to their own culture and society. Before Commodore Perry, the Japanese had held an unswerving confidence in their own superiority. Perhaps if they had been strong enough militarily to repel the foreigners, they might never have questioned their superiority. They realized they had lost the ability to compete. In order to compete militarily, they realized they needed to educate their people. They understood they had to (as the President said), “outeducate in order to outcompete.” Much of their present educational system was first adapted first from the Prussians and modified by influences from America.

America is in a similar situation today. There is an unshakable confidence in our own superiority in spite of contradictory evidence. But many Americans do not seem to feel the urgency of the situation. The main arena of competition today is not military but economic. What will it take, the economic equivalent of Commodore Perry's Black Ships? In order to outcompete economically, we have to outeducate our children. Strangely, calls to learn from others, such as the Japanese, are met with resistance and rationalizations.

It reminds me of an incident a few years ago when a group of Japanese Christians decided that California was a pretty wicked place in need of missionaries. The response from the Californians they visited was anger and derision. “We sent missionaries to you. How dare you think of sending missionaries to us?” Now it is not necessary to go off on a rabbit trail about Christianity and missionaries. The point here is the attitude displayed. It is educational ethnocentrism to think that it is impossible the Japanese should have anything to teach us. If we are not careful, we may wake up one day and find we have been outcompeted. Game over.

Most of what is written in American media about Japanese schools is mistaken. Very few writers have the long-term experience and fluency in Japanese to make sense of their observations. Japanese children are not rote-and-regurgitate robots.

At primary school, there are many opportunities for children to take the initiative to study on their own or in small groups, but the entire class almost always comes together again after a while to discuss findings and conclusions. Indeed, Japanese primary classrooms are very impressive for their emphasis on inquiry and exploration.

What helps to underpin the combination of energetic inquiry and discussion is the unremitting effort to develop a classroom community. All children take turns in leading the class, and all participate in a great variety of small groups for organizing everything from chores (including cleaning) to fun and games. This is often very effective in developing a sense of mutual consideration and respect.

In Japan, all education is essentially moral and Japanese education seeks to foster integrated wholeness in every child.

At secondary school, most children join after-school clubs, mainly run by teachers, which offer sporting or cultural activities, usually almost every day of the week. Sports clubs in particular play an important role in instilling an ethos of effort and self-discipline, as well as enabling children to develop non-academic abilities and experience camaraderie outside the classroom. All in all, Japan's schools have been remarkably good at enabling their charges to develop all-round mental and social capabilities that stand them in good stead as individuals and contributors to society...


I confidently expect continued sensationalist and misguided deploring of the shortcomings of Japanese schools and young people - either as undisciplined know-nothings or fact-stuffed robots - because "crisis" makes copy that sells. But the more mundane reality is that Japanese education does a pretty good job of turning out young people who are thoughtful, hard-working, energetic, knowledgeable, and often, remarkably creative - even if it could do still better.

The Japanese themselves are not wholly satisfied with their education system. They worry because their ranking in international comparisons is slipping. However, it is foolish to dismiss good ideas from Japan because of an American educational ethnocentrism that grasps at any reason to discount and then ignore valuable lessons from the Japanese education system.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

“Education... From Cradle Through a Career”

I appreciate that the President talks so often about the importance of education, most recently at the Centennial of the NAACP.

All of us can agree that we need to offer every child in this country -- every child --
...every child in this country the best education the world has to offer from cradle through a career.

No argument there. The debate centers around how to do it while still allowing competing interests to perpetuate and prosper. There are reasons society has settled for the current education system. One other thing we can agree on is the value of excellent teachers.
the job of a teacher is too important for us to accept anything less than the best. 

It may surprise you to learn that many, maybe most, school districts have a pernicious policy of rejecting the best school teachers. If a teacher moves from one community to another, that teacher has become what is called an “out-of-district” teacher. These teachers are proven successes with demonstrated competence and experience. They face a good chance of being rejected when they apply for teaching position in their new district. Most districts have a policy of rejecting applicants with more than around five years of teaching experience. And even if they hire the applicant, they will start the teacher on the pay scale at no higher than the five-year-experience level.

If America adopts nothing else from the Japanese education system, America needs, NEEDS, to adopt the idea that teachers are among the most esteemed members of society and teaching is among the most prestigious of professions, a profession capable of attracting our best students.

We need to walk back from the increasingly prevalent idea in American society that teachers are mere technicians. The Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) recently held a conference. One of the workshop presenters, Susan Ohanian, addressed the trend toward making teachers technicians. From a description of her workshop:

19. Teacher Professionalism At Risk
Presenter: Susan Ohanian
Teacher professionalism is at risk, under bombardment by Democratic and Republican corporate-politicos. When a teacher becomes a technician whose existence is dependent on directives from the State, then the very term 'teacher professionalism' becomes an oxymoron. This jeopardizes alternative schools as well as public schools. We are all At Risk.
What Ms. Ohanian is referring to is the increasing desire of schools to have their teachers become “facilitators” who manage computer-based courses, or deliver prepackaged curriculum. Schools have begun making teachers into technicians as a way to overcome the problem with teacher quality. Every teacher hates these scripted packages precisely because using them infringes on teacher autonomy and professionalism. Schools feel they have no choice. Schools feel that entrusting teachers (autonomy) is too risky because too many teachers lack quality (professionalism). Allowing the trend toward teachers as technicians to continue will only debilitate our education system further by making what some believe to be true to become really true, that anyone can be a teacher.
Any parent is witness to the learning power of babies and toddlers. Another thing we can agree on is that the earliest years are the foundational years.
And we should raise the bar when it comes to early learning programs.  It's not enough just to have a babysitter.  We need our young people stimulated and engaged and involved. .. some (early learning programs) are wasting what studies show are by far a child's most formative years.

But we cannot rely on the government. Nor should we.

Government programs alone won't get our children to the Promised Land.  We need a new mind set, a new set of attitudes -- because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way we've internalized a sense of limitation; how so many in our community have come to expect so little from the world and from themselves.

That's a description of one mindset. I encountered that mindset in the person of a junior high boy at an urban school. He was in my science class. I was constantly encouraging students to use education as the way out of the ghetto. This boy said, “Why bother? My father is a janitor and that's all I'll ever get to be.”

But there's another mindset he did not mention, a competing mindset no less debilitating. That is the mindset of entitlement manifested by students who believe that they do not need an education, their future as members of a privileged group is assured, and school is for meeting friends, playing around, and messing with the teacher. They think they are rich, but do not perceive their poverty.

The key to students with a positive attitude towards school is parents.

You can't just contract out parenting.  For our kids to excel, we have to accept our responsibility to help them learn...  And by the way, it means we need to be there for our neighbor's sons and daughters... That's the meaning of community.

With the support of parents, children can aspire to their potential.

It also means pushing our children to set their sights a little bit higher... I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers -- (applause) -- doctors and teachers -- (applause) -- not just ballers and rappers.  I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice.  (Applause.)  I want them aspiring to be the President of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

America needs an attitude makeover. Society needs to respect and esteem teachers. The colleges of education need to turn out teachers worthy of esteem and respect. Many disruptive students yearn to have a teacher who is worthy of their respect. Oftentimes their disruption is a search for someone, please, anyone to earn that respect. Schools need to pay teachers a salary befitting a professional. Once the esteem of society is the norm, colleges of education will have no difficulty attracting a full cohort of the the best and the brightest.

kids are smarter than we give them credit for

Kids ARE smarter than we give them credit for. In America, we really do not believe in our children. By an interesting turn of circumstances, I once found myself teaching high school biology to a multi-age group of students from second grade through high school. I found the youngest children could responsibly handle the equipment, record data, and discuss the implications of their data as well as the oldest students. Where the older students excelled was in writing the lab report. The children loved learning biology. It was fun, challenging and built real self-esteem, not the specious self-esteem so common in schools.

At the conclusion of his speech, the President waxed poetic:

One hundred years from now,
on the 200th anniversary of the NAACP,
let it be said that this generation did its part;
that we too ran the race;

that full of the faith that our dark past has taught us,
full of the hope that the present has brought us,
we faced, in our own lives and all across this nation,
the rising sun of a new day begun.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Incidental Oversight or Deliberate Social Engineering

America is full of sober, responsible people who tried very hard to do the right thing financially. They got their education, got a job, bought a house, stayed out of debt and saved for retirement. They followed all the rules only to wake up one fine morning and find themselves in serious financial trouble. What did they learn? They did not necessarily do the right things after all. They, meaning we, found that very often our financial teachers gave us advice that benefits them rather than us. Yet even now, our financial teachers, wherever they may be found, are advising us to do what we have so long been taught to do: go to school, work hard, stay out of debt, save for retirement, and hope things will be okay. Once the crisis is over and things are back to normal, doing all those old right things will work---except when they don't.

Every financial adviser strangely urges relying on the same failed strategies to work in the future, the strategies that enrich them instead of us. And why not? Most so-called financial advisers are really financial sales people. We should expect what they say to benefit mostly themselves. It seems each financial adviser has a pet financial instrument. For some, no matter what the financial problem is, the solution is life insurance. For others, the solution is an annuity. Still others, it's the stock market. For yet others...whatever it is they are licensed to sell. Once they have been paid, it little matters how their advice impacts their clients for good or ill.

Given the importance of finance in every single person's life, it is astonishing that finance is not generally taught in schools, nor is there much public demand to make finance part of the school curriculum. Teachers may read and groan, Oh, please, do not add even one more burden to the teaching load or one more excellent subject to be neglected in favor of NCLB testing. Even so, finance should be part of the curriculum, perhaps within the math curriculum. To be sure, many math textbooks touch on financial topics, especially when looking for real world applications of the math students are supposed to be learning. But these incidental financial topics are taught by the same elementary math teachers whose lack of a profound understanding of fundamental mathematics has already been well-documented.

Robert Kiyosaki, taking some cues from John Taylor Gatto, believes that keeping our children in ignorance about money and how it works is evil. We are in the information age when knowledge about all kinds of things, including money, is crucial. Yet as any history of education shows, our education system still operates in the industrial age. During the most recent presidential campaign we heard that education and the economy are intertwined and interdependent. However, there are no broad-based initiatives to include finance in the curriculum.

A program to teach financial literacy is probably more important than the technology literacy schools were more than happy to integrate into their curriculum, especially since technology in schools was often generously funded by the foundation arm of corporations in a position to profit. Thus Apple put free computers in many schools. Nearly every foundation's Request for Proposals (RFP) for grant funding requires a computer/technology component. Financial literacy is even better, because almost by definition, financial literacy would enhance that darling of all educators, CRITICAL THINKING. Financial literacy is all about evaluation, the very top level of cognitive knowledge.

What would a curriculum of financial literacy include? Robert Kiyosaki, writing about this very topic, would probably say a curriculum* of financial literacy would include:
1.The language of money.
2.The difference between capital gains and cash flow.
3.The fairytale aspect of most financial advice.
4.The influence of attitude on reality.
5.Selling yourself.

In other words, students need a new mind set, a different frame of reference, a modified set of pegs for organizing the basics of financial knowledge, such as rate of inflation, compound interest and tax strategies, just to name a few. Those basics need to be taught within a different frame of reference, because clearly the old frame of reference further enriches the already rich at our expense. Schools need to prepare students for the information age where knowledge is king. So far, schools seem uninterested in the task, perhaps because teachers with the new, different, modified mindset are so rare, and because the usual, but flawed advice, is not only everywhere, but everywhere accepted as correct. I am not necessarily recommending Mr. Kiyosaki's work. He has his own agenda. However, finance is such an integral part of the adult life for which we are supposed to be preparing students, we need to get serious about including it in the curriculum.

*Robert Kiyosaki spelled out his curriculum in chapter 12 of his new online book. The chapter did not exist when I first wrote the post, and the link is now broken.

“History of money...
Understanding a financial statement...
Difference between asset and liability...
Difference between capital gains and cash flow...
Difference between fundamental and technical investing...
Measuring an asset's strength...
Know how to choose good people...
Know which assets are best for you...
Know when to focus and when to diversify...
Minimize risk...
Know how to minimize taxes...
The difference between debt and credibility...
Know how to use derivatives...
Know how your wealth is stolen...
Know how to make mistakes...”

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Education Train May Have Left the Station

The education train may have left the station, leaving traditional educators still groping their way blindly to the platform.

New, innovative, non-educators are poised to blaze the new education trails needed to help America reclaim its status as the world class education system. These new style educators usually have not earned education degrees, have not taught school, and do not possess any state teaching licenses. All that stuff is so last century. Nevertheless, they may be at the forefront of the education reform so many of us yearn for.

I am not talking about technology, a relatively recent buzzword near and dear to education writers and grant-funding foundations. A Request for Proposal without a technology piece is getting pretty rare. However, technology is often nothing more than gussied-up drill-and-kill.

The people currently studying the dynamics of learning are not necessarily publishing in journals, but they are implementing what they learn in domains outside of traditional education settings. Second Life just held its first commencement ceremony honoring virtual students who earned degrees entirely in the virtual world. Talk about online education. I just want to know if the real person behind the Second Life avatar has acquired real-life marketable skills. I mean if the avatar had to complete assignments and pass tests to earn a virtual degree, is it possible the person behind the avatar acquired that knowledge. And if not, could the concept be designed so that the puppetmaster, so to speak, does acquire the puppet's skills? Intriguing.

The government has commissioned Visual Purple to create training simulations that put participants in decision-making roles to maximize learning by doing. Robert Kiyosaki, of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame, has a game, The CashFlow Game, out to help people master his strategies and tactics. The idea behind these simulations is the the puppet represents the puppetmaster, and the puppetmaster must learn and integrate knowledge and skills in order for the puppet to succeed. The acquired knowledge and skills is then directly useful in real life work.

So am I just talking about games and simulations? No. Games and simulations are nothing new. I used Reader Rabbit, Oregon Trail, Operation Frog, Sim Ant, and other programs with positive effects many, many years ago. But those programs were supplemental to my main teaching agenda, and compared with some of the new developments, frankly clumsy and primitive. With a well-designed curriculum, some of the new games can BE the teaching environment.

To be clear, I am NOT saying you have to subscribe to the opinions of any of the purveyors of games and simulations. I AM saying that Confucius was right. The amount remembered depends on the level of processing. The simulations seek to maximize learning at the active, 90% level.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Uncontrollable Variables Muddy Evaluations

Does Jonathan Alter at Newsweek really know what he wants? His recent article, Peanut-Butter Politics, rightly pinpoints teacher effectiveness as a crucial component of classroom effectiveness, but accuses the teachers union of reluctance to actually hold teachers accountable. The problem is he has no viable accountability plan except a nebulous call for measuring teacher effectiveness in the classroom.

Teacher effectiveness–say it three times. Last week a group called the New Teacher Project released a report titled "The Widget Effect" that argues that teachers are viewed as indistinguishable widgets–states and districts are "indifferent to variations in teacher performance"–and notes that more than 99 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory. The whole country is like Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegon, except all the teachers are above average, too.

Why? The short answer is teachers' unions. Duncan complained recently that the California school system has a harmful "firewall" between student evaluation and teacher evaluation. In other words, teachers can't be evaluated on whether their students actually learned anything between September and June. The head of the San Francisco union says it's nuts to judge teachers on whether there's evidence that shows improvement in their classrooms. An A for accountability, eh?


It takes a tough man to say, in the middle of a recession, "no improvement, no check." But if not now, when?

I addressed The Widget Effect a couple weeks ago. It is not so much that there is a lack of desire to hold teachers accountable. The main problem is that there are simply too many variables the teacher does not control. No one has yet proposed any fair way of evaluating teachers. And no teacher can or should be held responsible for (for example) the drunken uncle who lives in the student's home.
The worthlessness of evaluations creates a major disconnect in the school policy.

Though it is widely accepted that a teacher’s effectiveness matters more than any other school factor in student success or failure, it is almost never considered in critical decisions such as how teachers are hired, developed or retained.

Teacher effectiveness cannot be considered because teacher effectiveness is unknown. What's more, researchers have no consensus as to the characteristics of an effective teacher.
I would like to address the first two points.

It is easy to be negative and overlook the legions of highly motivated, highly competent, and highly effective teachers in our classrooms. In spite of the evaluation difficulties, we know they are there. here's the thing: many are recognized only years after a student has benefited from their influence. At the time, their students, with their lack of life experience, may not have realized what a treasure their teacher was. In fact, they may have even “hated” their teacher. Nevertheless, great teachers populate our classrooms in great numbers. A commonly appearing estimate is 50%. Around 50% of education students have the right stuff, but nearly all students will graduate and end up in our schools. Any college of education cohort can differentiate the more able from the less able among their peers. Maybe our colleges of education should be more selective, evaluating teaching candidates for suitability long before they have invested four plus years of time and money in becoming teachers.