I Recommend EconTalk – Especially This Week on Teaching

The economy is endlessly fascinating. I love learning about it, coming to understand it better, and realizing, with all I learn, how much more there is to know. Presumably most readers of this post also enjoy learning about the economy. For those who do I recommend EconTalk.

EconTalk is a weekly podcast of conversations between Russ Roberts of the Hoover Institution and a guest, usually an economist, often one who has recently written an important book or paper. It’s free and available at EconTalk.org and on iTunes.

Learning by listening to a free-flowing conversation is most pleasant and comfortable, and Russ Roberts makes sure to avoid (or explain) anything too technical for the non-economist.

This week’s episode is so good that it moves me to write about it. Roberts’s guest is Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion. Lemov is also the managing director of Uncommon Schools, a non-profit that manages and operates thirty-eight charter schools in the Northeast.

The hour-long conversation is exhilarating to me—I’m listening to it for the second time since yesterday—for how it confirms my belief that schooling in America can be very much better than it is today, even in our better schools.

How so? Because skills for teaching effectively can be learned and practiced and improved. Growing up in poverty does not make a child unteachable; here and there great schools exist which consistently get great results with poor children. I believe I’m a pretty good teacher, but I believe that if I practice just the three specific skills I learned about yesterday, I will improve significantly. And those are just three of the forty-nine different skills described in Teach Like a Champion (which I purchased for my Kindle last night and am itching to start; alas, I have to get a blog post up and work on term-end grades before I do).

The EconTalk podcast with Doug Lemov is about teaching, just teaching. There is no explicit discussion of how large a role, if any, the government should have in education, in order to incentivize and support the spread of high-quality teaching. I have no idea if Lemov would support free-market schooling, which I explore in the final chapter of Free Our Markets.

But what he asserts to be necessary for high-quality teaching certainly points that way. Consider this passage:

In fact this is the definition of a great principal—someone who understands what good teaching is and then can identify it and support it. And so to me it underscores a couple of things. It underscores the incredible importance of school leadership and how school leadership would have to—autonomy and accountability have to live together in an organization, and we have to free our school leaders to make real decisions so that they can really influence what happens in their schools. And hold them accountable for it. (emphasis added)

Real autonomy and freedom for school leaders come from owning their schools. Meaningful accountability is accountability to parents. To infuse our schools with that kind of autonomy and accountability across the board, to improve teaching at all schools, requires getting the government out of the way, and letting schooling evolve in a free market.

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