Education Reform Blah Blah

The Washington Monthly has an article up about John Kerry’s education platform – he’s apparently “Hot For Teachers”. The ultimate goal is to get a bumper crop of good teachers through incentive pay; it’s a nice idea that seems to have worked in some places, but some of the assumptions that go into it give me pause:

Teaching pays poorly compared to other professions that require a similar level of educational attainment. And many intelligent young people who might otherwise go into teaching in spite of the low pay are put off by the mind-numbing credentialing process.

I’m an intelligent young person who very nearly went into teaching. The mind-numbing credentialing process didn’t put me off; neither did the low pay. What did put me off was the prospect of spending more time on disciplinary and administrative trivia than on actual teaching, and then having my performance evaluated by a multiple-choice test that doesn’t require half the skills I think are important.

We need to recognize that we’re collectively unwilling to pay teachers what they’re worth. Lesser amounts of money still help, but $5,000 is not enough to compensate for rotten working conditions and a lack of professional respect, not when you could get that $5,000 and some respect in another profession. Any serious education reform effort must look at ways to attract bright new teachers through non-monetary perks: more supportive administrators, enhanced mobility (harmonized credential requirements among states, tuition repayment programs without specific residency requirements), better ways of dealing with the one or two consistently disruptive students in a class.

Of course this sort of thing gets lip service:

Most educators don’t go into the profession strictly for money. I’ve known many teachers who would gladly have sacrificed pay for a sense of accomplishment and respect. In place of a raise, they’d prefer a schedule that would allow them to go to the bathroom more than once every four hours, a principal who would treat them as professional adults, or a building whose structure wasn’t rotting. […] Improving local school governance, however, isn’t something Washington can really do directly.

I have a friend who just spent a year with Teach for America in one of the worst-performing districts in the Rio Grande Valley. One of the most frequent complaints in his email updates was that the administration was unwilling or unable to help him discipline his students – sending a student to the office or issuing an administrative write-up, the two classic measures of last resort when I was in high school, were utterly ineffective and even frowned upon. I can’t think of a good way to measure and incentivize school administrator performance just by sitting here on my blog for five minutes, but if we can do it for teachers, surely we can do it for principals as well?


  1. Rana wrote:

    Amen. I tolerate fools and foolishness poorly, part of the reason I never wanted to teach in the public schools. Strange how we seem to currently be in a cultural moment that is bent on producing more of them and it.

  2. yami wrote:

    Aren’t most cultural moments bent on foolishness though?

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