We’ve reported on this month’s announcement of the Nobel prize to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holstrom. (Here is David Henderson’s always excellent commentary in the Wall Street Journal.) Since then, this piece in Education Next caught my eye. It suggests that many of the problems that plague performance-based pay for teachers may be mitigated by closer attention to Holmstrom’s work. But would his work go so far as to suggest that performance metrics are ill placed in school settings? The author of this piece thinks so; I’ll let you be the judge.

There may yet be empirical methods to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers, as Eric Hanushek describes in this 2011 EconTalk episode. The traditional measures of quality assessment- years of experience and advanced degrees- Hanushek finds uncorrelated with student achievement. But he also stresses just how significant the impact of a good teacher can be on an individual student’s lifetime earnings potential. In this 2015 episode, though, Hanushek returns to the question of inputs v outputs, and argues that for international development goals, emphasis should be on students’ performance on skill-based exams. This leads me back to one of the big questions in my world…what exactly is it we want education to do? Is its sole purpose economic, or is there something more grand we desire? (This particular question is complicated when universal and compulsory education enters the picture…) And what role do individual teachers play in terms of these goals?

So what makes a teacher great? It seems everyone can remember a great teacher who had a positive impact on their life. But can you really put your finger on what is was that made them great? Champion educator Doug Lemov argues that practice and technique make the difference in this 2013 EconTalk episode. (By the way, Russ tells me Lemov is coming back soon!)

Arnold Kling read Lemov’s book several years ago, and had mixed reactions. His concern is the motivation of students. As he says, “In a perfect world, the students would just love learning, and you would not have to do anything to control them. In the real world, it seems that teaching seems to require more conscious efforts to manipulate and control.” As a former classroom teacher, I recognize this challenge as well. Students come with varying levels of motivation (not to mention ability), with equally varying reasons why. Any teachers out there care to comment?

P.S. If you’re interested in some more reading education, last month I was privileged to participate in the new Center for the Study of Liberty’s program, “Women’s Influence and Liberty,” as the moderator for a session on K-12 education. Here’s a link to the readings I assigned participants in advance. I’d love to get your reaction!