The conventional wisdom among many education commentators is that U.S. public school teachers “come from the bottom third” of their classes, says Matthew Di Carlo, senior fellow at the non-profit Albert Shanker Institute, for the Washington Post. Most recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took this talking point a step further, and asserted at a press conference last week that teachers are drawn from the bottom 20 percent of graduates. All of this is supposed to imply that the U.S. has a serious problem with the “quality” of applicants to the profession. Despite the ubiquity of the “bottom third” and similar arguments (which are sometimes phrased as massive generalizations, with no reference to actual proportions), it’s unclear how many of those who offer them know what specifically they refer to (e.g., GPA, SAT/ACT, college rank, etc.). This is especially important since so many of these measurable characteristics are not associated with future test-based effectiveness in the classroom, while those that are only modestly so…

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