Verbal Ability and Teacher Effectiveness

Article excerpt

In June 2002, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige issued the annual report on teacher quality, Meeting the Highly Qualified Teacher Challenge (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). In this report, the secretary echoed and amplified the sentiments of several of the most vocal critics of traditional teacher preparation (Haycock, 1998; Finn, 2001; Walsh, 2001). Secretary Paige's message regarding teacher selection was that "the only measurable teacher attributes that relate directly to improved student achievement are high verbal ability and solid content knowledge" (U.S. Department of Education, 2002, p. 39). Secretary Paige goes on to suggest that "mandated education courses, unpaid student teaching, and the hoops and hurdles of the state certification bureaucracy" (p. 40) discourage the best potential teachers.

The secretary's report reflects one side of a battle among (a) the traditional gatekeepers of the teaching profession (colleges and the states); (b) the education reformists who would more closely regulate teacher education, most notably, those responsible for the reports of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future; and (c) the deregulationists who wish to strip states, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, and traditional teacher preparers of their monopoly on teacher preparation. The latter group, to which Secretary Paige pays special heed, sees little use for traditional teacher preparation programs, backs policies to deregulate teacher education and to offer school-based alternative routes to licensure, and supports a definition of a highly qualified teacher as one with strong verbal ability and good subject-matter background.

Secretary Paige's message could not have been clearer. He portrays traditional teacher education programs as obstacles to the goal of more highly qualified teachers. He seems to assume that only verbal ability and content knowledge matter. What most would assume are necessary ingredients of good teaching, he portrays as sufficient and seeks to exclude formal teacher preparation as unnecessary. Several educators have responded with alarm to these conclusions. Perhaps the most thorough rebuttal of Secretary Paige's claims and those made earlier by Walsh (2001) came in the December 2002 issue of Educational Researcher in an article by Darling-Hammond and Youngs. These authors take on all of the claims made regarding teacher preparation and teacher effectiveness. A barrage of claims and counterclaims has followed. Much of the contention has surrounded a few research studies (Ferguson, 1991; Ferguson & Ladd, 1996; Greenwald, Hedges, & Zaine, 1996; Hanushek, 1971). Each side has used these studies to support its own position--sometimes, the

same study is used to support contrary claims. This pattern seems characteristic of many battles in education--battles in which sides are taken on the basis of philosophy and ideology and in which "scientific" evidence is chosen because it props up one's predetermined viewpoint.

Our goals in this article are to discuss the relationship of verbal ability and teacher effectiveness, to review previous research, and to explore implications of choosing teachers on the basis of verbal ability. To make the case, we include a commonsense discussion of the relationship of verbal ability and teacher effectiveness and describe a research study that used a rigorous measure of teachers' verbal ability (the verbal test of the Graduate Record Examination).

THE LOGICAL ARGUMENT FOR VERBAL ABILITY AND TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS

Defining Verbal Ability

What is verbal ability? In general usage, verbal ability refers to a person's facility at putting ideas into words, both oral and written. This facility involves possessing not only a strong working vocabulary but also the ability to choose the right words to convey nuances of meaning to a chosen audience. Verbal ability also includes the ability to organize words in coherent ways. …