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K-12 Education has a quarterback problem

It was not an easy decision.

Both players came to the 1998 draft with impressive college numbers, high expectations and tons of buzz among NFL scouts. Both were All-Americans and finalists for the Heisman Trophy. In fact, both were seen by many NFL experts to be equal in ability and potential. One NFL general manager said

you really can’t go wrong with either one of them.

A year later, after a full season as a starting quarterback in the NFL, one had thrown for 3,739 yards with 26 touchdowns, set five different NFL rookie records, including most touchdown passes in a season, and was named to the NFL All-Rookie First Team.

The other?

Skipped a series of mandatory meetings required of all drafted players, was benched after nine games, threw just two touchdown passes and fifteen interceptions, passed for 1,289 yards with a terrible quarterback rating of 39.

The first? Drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning continues to start, has been selected as an All-Pro ten times, was Super Bowl MVP in 2007 and named Player of the Decade in 2009.

The other?

Ryan Leaf appeared in just 25 games over four years at San Diego, Tampa Bay and Dallas. He completed 317 of 655 passes for 3,666 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.

So . . . we get it. Manning good, Leaf bad. The point?

It’s incredibly hard figuring out which great college quarterbacks will develop into great NFL quarterbacks. Everything seemed to suggest that both Manning and Leaf would be successful. One was. One wasn’t.

It’s the quarterback problem. Who do you draft?

In his short essay Most Likely to Succeed, Malcolm Gladwell of Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point fame uses the quarterback problem to illustrate a similar problem in K-12 education.

How do we know which college kids will become great teachers?


should we care?

The research seems pretty clear, Gladwell claims. With enough data, it becomes easy to identify both poor and great teachers. Eric Hanushek of Stanford University says that students of great teachers learn the equivalent of 1.5 years of content every year. Students of poor teachers learn 0.5 years of content in the same amount of time.

For the mathematically challenged, that’s a difference of a year. A year.

Teacher effects impact learning much more than school effects. A great teacher in a bad school is better for kids than a bad teacher in an excellent school. Robert Marzano’s research makes this clear:

Eric Hanushek says that simply replacing the bottom 10% of poor teachers with average ones could close any achievement gap that exists between the US and other countries.

And after years of worrying about standards, funding levels, class size and curriculum design, many are beginning to say that nothing matters more than putting great teachers in US classrooms.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it?

What do potential great teachers look like?

Tomorrow? Great teachers, how to find them and how to get them into the classroom.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dickerson #

    I understand the premise of the study but would like to know the deciding factor in determining what is an effective or ineffective teacher? What did Marzano use to decide the difference between the two types of teachers? I think we overlook what is the true nature of the decline in education and that is the family. A student, whose parent prioritizes education achieves at a higher level. The student, whose parent places a low priority on education achieves at a lower level. I wish the latter study would be conducted. I think that is data that would actually prove something beneficial.

    March 30, 2011
    • glennw #

      It’s a good question. Marzano outlines much of his research in Classroom Management That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Every Teacher and Classroom Assessment & Grading That Work. He emphasizes the appropriate use of strategies such as well-designed practice activities, comparison activities, communicating learning goals, and using pictures, graphs, and pictographs to represent knowledge.

      Gladwell also mentions the work of Bob Pianta, dean at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. Pianta and others use videotaped lessons of teachers in action to document effective practices. I would also throw into the mix the work of UnCommon Schools Doug Lemov and his book Teach Like a Champion.

      And I would agree that parents play a huge role in the education of their kids. I’ve written before about how powerful parents can be.

      But I think we miss the point a bit when we won’t take a look at ways to improve the pool of both potential teachers and current ones. Why do colleges of ed take pretty much everyone? Why is it so difficult to either improve a bad teacher or get rid of them?

      My question? What can the K-12 and higher ed community do to identify and hire those people who would make great teachers?

      Thanks for the comment!


      March 30, 2011
  2. Don Gifford #

    Glenn can’t wait for tomorrow! To answer the question “What can the K-12 and higher ed community do to identify and hire those people who would make great teachers?” I think the key is not in their education, as important as that is, but in their personal “dispositions.” My own experience tells me that teachers who are self-motivated, selfless, possess a sense of mission, enthusiasm, and passion have the best chance of influencing the disposition of kids to learn. If we look for and encourage those types of attitudes I think we have a better chance of hiring Manning over Leaf.

    April 4, 2011
    • glennw #


      Much of the work that Bob Pianta at the University of Virginia is doing with video observations focuses on the types of things that you mention.

      The idea is that there is more to being a great teacher than just book smarts and content knowledge.


      April 4, 2011

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Great teachers make a difference. So do bad ones. « History Tech
  2. Being a great teacher means . . . « History Tech

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