Teachers Unions, Performance Pay, and Autonomy

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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79 Responses

  1. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    As I anticipated in the comments to Will’s post, I will now have to do a follow-up, although from the looks of this, it seems like your position has evolved a bit since we first became aware of each other through this issue. This gives me quite a bit to work off of.Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Should that sound foreboding….?

    Hey what happened to your gravatar anyways?Report

  3. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    I don’t know. I switched it back to my old PE avatar a few days ago, but it’s not showing up for some reason.Report

  4. Avatar matoko-chan
    Ignored
    says:

    No.
    You need to find a way to tell the 40percenters that they need trade school, not college. And not better teachers….more teachers.
    Cutting the student teacher ratio is the only way to approximate parental involvement.Report

  5. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    And no, that shouldn’t be foreboding, although I think you make the common mistake of misunderstanding what “market measures” should mean in an educational context. Beyond that, there’s actually a good amount in here where I agree with you.Report

  6. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Matoko – I list trade school as an important step in the article (do we disagree on that somehow?) Also, more teachers, yes, but also better teachers. How to do that? Give them back their classrooms.Report

  7. Avatar David
    Ignored
    says:

    Its posts like this that made me start reading this blog daily. I don’t think we can start to improve education until we start recognizing that one of the primary drivers of educational performance is the quality of home life. Everyone involved in this debate needs to recognize that teachers see students often for no more than 50 minutes a day. Friends, family, coaches etc often have as much if not more influence on how well children do in school. By blaming, and trying to credit, teachers for the quality of education we needlessly forget these other factors.

    I’d also like to stick up for tenure on another ground that often gets forgotten, and thats academic freedom. It seems less important in high school because teachers aren’t publishing etc. But it still matters. A teacher at my high school showed students in a current events class “Bowling for Columbine,” not to indoctrinate, but to serve as the basis for a student debate she was setting up. She was married to a College debate professor and wanted to introduce students to the arguments. The parents went nuts, and called for her head. She got in trouble with the principle and might have been fired if it weren’t for tenure. She was a great teacher, and the idiocy of some parents who couldn’t tolerate the idea of a debate over an issue nearly ended a great asset to the school. We shouldn’t forget that tenure, while it does keep bad teachers in classrooms sometimes, also serves an important function in preventing people who really have no idea how to actually educate students from second guessing those who do.Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    David – thanks! High praise indeed!

    And excellent point about tenure. I shouldn’t have left that out. Indeed taking away this last remnant of freedom (academic freedom) from a teacher’s job would just about place the nail in the coffin.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Cutting the student teacher ratio is the only way to approximate parental involvement.”

    The essay that this sentence originally inspired had too many swear words. I wrote this one instead.

    Communities with the highest percentage of parents capable of doing a good job of homeschooling are likely to be the ones with parents that do homeschooly stuff at home for fun anyway. Additionally, these parents are likely to have a close overlap with the parents likely to give the kids the best homework help and if the teachers are doing a poor job teaching this or that concept, the parents are most likely to catch it, raise a stink, and have enough stroke in the community for one reason or another to make sure that a particularly bad teacher is not fired (unions, you know how it is) but moved to district 58.

    Coincidentally, district 58 has the most single parents, the most parents who don’t tend to help their kids with their homework, the most parents incapable of helping their kids with their homework, and the most troubled kids in general. District 58’s teachers, for one reason or another, have all been transferred there from another school district.

    Surely the best way to help the kids in district 58 is *NOT* to make it tougher to fire teachers. Surely not. Surely not.Report

  10. Avatar Stuart Buck
    Ignored
    says:

    The second thing that a teacher gets when they sign up for a charter school gig or a job at a private school is autonomy. This is the big one. This is the thing that standardized testing and national meddling absolutely demolishes.

    It depends on the state, but most charter schools have to take the exact same standardized tests as the other public schools.Report

  11. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird that still misses the point, which is that District 58 can fire all it likes but if it can’t replace the teachers it fires, then what? It’s not a good situation either way. Now, I do support special incentives for teaching in poor areas (urban and rural). That’s just a necessity.

    Stuart – true. It depends. But the point of charters is generally autonomy, both for the teachers and the schools….Report

  12. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    Even accepting your model that there are teachers that everybody knows are good and others that everybody knows are bad and a wide swath in between… how about making it easier to fire that second group?

    I would personally be more amenable to giving teachers more latitude if it were easier to fire the ones that abuse it. Giving them more freedom with less accountability with the faith that it will bring in better teachers strikes me as excessively idealistic.

    Of course, if you take away the standardized tests and subjective reviews, how do you measure a teacher? It’s awfully difficult, which is a big part of the problem and why, even though I would love a more innovative teaching staff with greater freedom, I remain skeptical of the concept and prefer a more cautious approach.

    This is particularly true when it comes to parents that have limited options. For charter schools and vouchered private schools, this is less of an issue because if the parents aren’t getting what they want, they have immediate alternatives.

    Another ball amongst the ones I am juggling as I wade my way through this issue is that absent notably accountable (either through testing or parents withdrawing their kids), I’m not positive a more “professional” class of teachers is necessarily better for the general student population than is a more professionally designed curriculum and lesser teachers with less autonomy. I haven’t yet heard a good response to the success of Direct Instruction that wasn’t mostly philosophical, though I’m open to hearing it.Report

  13. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    Jay- nice “just so” story. FWIW class size has been studied extensively. Small class sizes have a profound positive affect on school achievement. The affect is greatest for grade school kids.

    And FWIW again. I used to know several teachers in the outreach program to homeless youth when I was working in a homeless shelter. A tough population with multi-problemed families, you know, the kind who have trouble helping their kids in school, most troubled, etc. Those teachers were dedicated and worked their butts off far more then 40 per week. Some even spent their own money at times for supplies.

    Why is it nobody proposes the way to improve medical care is to fire doctors or nurses?Report

  14. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    The “it’s too hard to fire teachers because of tenure and unions” thing is mostly off-base because – and this is important – there is a teacher shortage. Schools won’t fire teachers when they can’t be replaced, or when they’ll be replaced with probably similar lackluster performers.

    There are ways to fire teachers. It’s not impossible. Maybe a few rules need to be changed. BUT:

    Until we have enough teachers, and can keep them, it won’t do any good.

    And greginak – great points, both re: medical care costs and teachers in low-income areas.Report

  15. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    If district 20 fired teacher Bob rather than transferred him to district 58, district 58 wouldn’t *HAVE* to fire teacher Bob. Teacher Bob would be a problem that 58 would never have had introduced in the first place. Is the argument that teacher Bob is the only person who would have accepted the position at 58 and, otherwise, the classroom would have sat empty?

    I disagree. I think that the whole “you can’t fire a teacher” turns into “you have to transfer teachers” which turns a number of districts into positively SEPTIC places when, before, they would have been merely bad.Report

  16. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    To clarify my fourth paragraph, giving teachers and schools more autonomy can be a great thing. I believe strongly in that. But the main thing about the charter schools and private schools is that they have the accountability of participation. A charter or private school where teachers are known to be ineffective will (or should) lose its students. The local high school, though, has its students roped in unless there is a charter school or vouchered private school to take them in (or they can homeschool). So allowing these schools to experiment with a captive audience without any sort of accountability strikes me as a potentially dangerous proposition.

    (As such, while I believe that administrators ought to be able to fire teachers at will, I would be opposed to an at-will-employment situation where a principal has the autonomy to fire anybody he wants for any reason. However, I don’t oppose this on charter or private schools provided that anti-discrimination laws are not being broken).Report

  17. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Why is it nobody proposes the way to improve medical care is to fire doctors or nurses?”

    Do doctors/nurses have a union preventing doctors/nurses from being fired when they screw up which results in them being transferred to inner city or rural poor hospitals where no one with any cultural capital lives so screw them anyway?Report

  18. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Trumwill –

    True, some of this may be on a philosophical level but the point that it’s not is in the fact – and this has been extensively studied – that students learn in different ways, have different “types” of intelligences and so forth. Uniformity destroys our ability to reach these kids, who don’t fit the age-old model. Same goes for the importance of trade schools. Some people are better off learning how to be carpenters than pursuing the liberal arts model. But again, uniformity kills that.

    Also, read Yglesias on Finnish teachers (who are paid what amounts to an average US teacher salary):

    Teaching is held in high regard not just in the abstract, but in practice as a profession a lot of people want to get into. Consequently, the teaching programs are quite selective. And the selectivity itself makes teaching prestigious since everyone knows teachers are graduates of selective programs. Which helps make going into teaching seem appealing to a lot of people. And so on and so forth in an interesting way.

    Report

  19. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird – defining when a nurse or doctor screws up vs. when a teacher screws up is very different – not even comparable. There are many etc.’s for that one, but I’ll just leave it at that for now.

    Oh, and nurses often do have unions. And again, unions aren’t the driving factor here anyways.Report

  20. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    It seems absolutely toxic to me that one of the responses to “it should be easier to fire harmful teachers” is “but we have a teacher shortage!”Report

  21. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    You keep dodging the point, Jaybird. It’s not that it should be harder to fire them because of that, it’s because it simply IS harder to fire them because of that. Harmful teachers? If you mean physically harmful then there are actually many measures in place to get rid of those, the few media-driven stories about some rare cases notwithstanding.

    When it comes to academia (at any level) it is important to protect academic freedom and that requires a conservative approach to firing educators, however time-consuming and costly that becomes. Make it a better industry for smart, talented people to work in and you’ll have more applicants, stiffer competition, and eventually fight the disease rather than the symptom.Report

  22. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “defining when a nurse or doctor screws up vs. when a teacher screws up is very different – not even comparable. ”

    The main overlap seems to be “people are screwed up for the rest of their lives”.Report

  23. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    //Until we have enough teachers, and can keep them, it won’t do any good.//

    It depends on the school and depends on the subject. The shortage isn’t across the board. Some schools don’t have a problem with staffing while others do. This frequently runs along SES lines. Unless more teachers are allowed into the system, it will do some good and some bad. It’ll create winners and losers as the better schools fire their bad teachers and pick off the better teachers from worse districts to replace them.

    But on the subject of more teachers, it’s hard to ignore the union’s (or at least education establishment’s) role in that. My best friend’s wife has been in Oregon for four years and I am positive that she would make a wonderful teacher. But because her teaching certification is in Arizona (and she can’t get Oregon certification without getting a job or going through a very onerous process), she hasn’t gotten the opportunity. So for her subject, there either isn’t a shortage or they’re intentionally keeping people out and creating a shortage so that they can’t get rid of the teachers that they have.

    I have to confess that I don’t know all of the particulars of her situation, but I know that she desperately wants to teach, has certification in another state, and is right now reduced to tutoring students and substitute teaching.

    Speaking of which, I can’t even be a substitute teacher in my current state of residence because I didn’t jump through all the credentialist hoops. Maybe the union has nothing to do with this… but I’m doubtful. I would personally really like to try teaching, but there are barriers keeping me out on the possibility that I /might/ be a bad teacher because I haven’t properly been educated/credentialed for it. It makes me ill-disposed to the argument that bad teachers have to be kept because of a shortage that would occur otherwise.

    That’s another area where the unions are problematic.Report

  24. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    The main difference being one is much easier to define – i.e. the doctor made the problem he was trying to fix worse. Tell me it’s that easy to figure out whether a teacher is doing their job well or not.Report

  25. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    EDK,

    Yes, different people learn differently. And if we can have a charter school for any and every kind of learning, I would be in favor of that. I’m a big – huge – fan of charter schools. But mainstream public schools are a mass-production model. Parents don’t get to choose the teacher whose methods are most likely to work on their particular kid. They don’t get to choose the school whose philosophy most closely mirrors their own. Schools are incapable of *having* a philosophy if they don’t have control over personnel. So I can’t escape the conclusion that you have to go with the methodology that works on the most students most of the time and let those who need to learn differently go to a charter program.

    The other thing is that you can’t give autonomy to schools *and* teachers. One comes at the expense of the other. If a school can’t fire (or threaten to fire) teachers that don’t fit into their mold, then they lack autonomy. They are at the mercy of their teachers. Likewise, a school that can fire teachers because their style doesn’t match the school’s brochures or philosophy, then the teacher’s autonomy is compromised.Report

  26. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    There is no perfect system, of course. There never will be. But I disagree with your points here.

    First, I’m not arguing for charter schools to pop up for every different learning style. I’m arguing against tests that confine teachers to one teaching style.

    Second, I don’t think autonomous schools and teachers are somehow mutually exclusive. I think it is actually mutually beneficial. Teachers who are given control over their classes and do a good job are less of a headache for their employers. Tenure does not provide total immunity, nor do unions. They make the process more difficult but not impossible. Besides, the theory goes that if you raise the desirability of teaching you get more talent, and thereby lower the need for firing bad teachers. My point is that you can do this without significantly restructuring pay or unions.Report

  27. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    If there is a shortage in any industry, an important question is to ask “are there barriers to entry” and “what are they?” My sister, of all people, is an elementary school teacher. She’s pretty good at it, I reckon. Parents in her district agitate to make sure that when little Meaghan and Hester are old enough to be in school, that they are in Mrs. Jaybird’s Sister’s class.

    The hoops that she had to leap through to teach are absolutely mind-blowing to me… and they almost resulted in her giving up and doing something else (the CAT test which evolved to the PLACE test were the main culprits).

    Sure. I know that I am far, far too close to this topic to have a dispassionate opinion on it and this is a topic of great enough importance that the dispassionate need to have an equal (if not primary!) voice.

    But it strikes me that if there is a problem with a shortage of people in a particular field, it’s worth asking if there are barriers to entry and if these barriers to entry are reasonable. From my (far, far too close to the issue!) position, the barriers to entry are creating far more empty blackboards than the ability to fire a harmful teacher would.Report

  28. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Tell me it’s that easy to figure out whether a teacher is doing their job well or not.”

    Dude, I am not *EVEN* talking about teachers doing well and teachers who aren’t. I’m talking about harmful teachers. There are those, you know… and you can’t fire them either.

    Here, I’ll post my earlier comment again and see if you read it differently with that in mind (it’s cool, it’s short).

    It seems absolutely toxic to me that one of the responses to “it should be easier to fire harmful teachers” is “but we have a teacher shortage!”Report

  29. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    I don’t know, Jaybird. I come from a long line of educators. In order for me to become a teacher I need to get a teaching degree (one year on top of the degree I have) or a Masters in education in some topic (english, biology, whatever) since I already have a bachelors. I need an FBI fingerprint clearance card (which I have) to make sure I’m not a pedophile. I need to understand (in a very very basic fashion) the federal and state constitutions. Then I need to get a job.

    That doesn’t seem so bad to me. And quite frankly, having substitute taught, I wouldn’t mind a little extra education on methodology to help me learn a bit more before I jump into it.Report

  30. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    We’re not talking about harmful teachers. They are the exception not the rule. We don’t make huge leaps in policy for the exception – we make them for the rule. I have already said that I’m in favor of examining what exactly makes it hard to fire these specific teachers – but overhauling the unions is probably not the answer. Probably the answer lies in tweaking a few things.

    But the larger issue is still the fact that we need to find a way to attract better teachers, and I just don’t see performance pay being that answer.Report

  31. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Are there barriers to entry *TODAY* that were not there when those in your long line became educators?

    In addition to my sister being a teacher, both my mom and dad were teachers (first generation teachers, in both cases) and my mom (dad has passed) has said that she cannot believe the hoops they made my sister jump through and expressed doubt that she’d be able to do it under similar circumstances.

    Now, of course, mom is mom and she’d say that no matter what.

    But, in addition to having said it to give encouragement to my sister, she very well could have said it because it’s true.Report

  32. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    //First, I’m not arguing for charter schools to pop up for every different learning style. I’m arguing against tests that confine teachers to one teaching style.//

    What if a particular teaching style is more successful with more students than an alternative teaching style? Previously you made the observations that students learn differently, but now it seems that you’re saying that how students learn is not as material as how the teachers would prefer to teach. I’m more concerned with the way that students best learn. Maybe that method is each teacher teaching to their individual style… but I’m not convinced that this is so. If I’m a hands-on learner, a teacher with a good lecture will be less helpful to me than a less skillful teacher letting me get my hands on stuff.

    So while you’re not arguing for charter schools to pop up for every learning style, I actually favor the effort. But for the rest of the kids, I think that it’s better that the style used be the style that the most kids are most likely to learn more.

    //Second, I don’t think autonomous schools and teachers are somehow mutually exclusive. //

    They seem to be as you put it. A school that does not have control over personnel lacks autonomy. It may well be for the school’s own benefit that this requirement is imposed on them, but it wasn’t their choice. An administration may prefer to give teachers lattitude, but what it would prefer is irrelevant. They lack the ability to staff their schools with teachers that fit in with their philosophy. They’re at the mercy of the preferences of the individual teachers and the only filter they have is the initial interview. I’m not sure how this constitutes autonomy on the part of the school.

    //Besides, the theory goes that if you raise the desirability of teaching you get more talent, and thereby lower the need for firing bad teachers.//

    Except that you don’t really get to distinguish between the talented and untalented. You can only distinguish between those that are competent and those that are so incompetent (or worse) that the unions can’t protect them. So you may attract more talented teachers, but you may also attract less talented teachers, too. And what you get is what you got.

    (If my questioning starts to seem hostile, I don’t intend it to. The tone in my head is conversational. But it’s impossible to convey that into text.)Report

  33. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ll have to check, jaybird. My dad is currently Dean of Education here so he’s seen it all, and has his own criticisms of the system in place (and his own biases, of course). Some of these hoops are actually good things though. In other professions we don’t refer to them as hoops anyways – like law school or medical school or having to get a PhD to teach at the college level etc.Report

  34. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Trumwill:

    Previously you made the observations that students learn differently, but now it seems that you’re saying that how students learn is not as material as how the teachers would prefer to teach. I’m more concerned with the way that students best learn.

    Not at all. Actually, I think the two go hand in hand. New teachers are learning a lot about the multiple learning styles and intelligences that face them in their students, but current restrictions on teachers make it hard for them to implement smart approaches. Hands being tied and all.

    Also it’s just a myth that schools don’t get to staff their schools with personnel of their own choosing. The hiring process for teachers includes principals interviewing potential candidates often alongside other teachers and sometimes even with student involvement. (as a student in public school I was part of such a hiring process where a tribunal of students took part in the interviewing process). So that’s a moot point. And tenure isn’t achieved typically for two or three years one way or another and teachers can be let go if they underperform during that time for any reason.

    There is a lot (a lot!!!) of myth surrounding the hiring/firing practices for teachers. Most of it is just not true. A school has a great deal of say still on who they hire and can let them go for a good period of time if they aren’t up to the task. A teacher having more control over their own classes does not translate to a school with less autonomy, it translates to a school with lots of creative potential.

    Potential being the key word here.Report

  35. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “We’re not talking about harmful teachers.”

    Oh, well then. Sorry. I’ll let you guys continue on the topic of making sure that the teachers in the good districts and the not-yet-marginal districts are protected.

    For the children.Report

  36. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    //That doesn’t seem so bad to me. And quite frankly, having substitute taught, I wouldn’t mind a little extra education on methodology to help me learn a bit more before I jump into it.//

    It may be ideal for teachers to jump through those hoops, but as you point out we have a shortage. Widening the pool of applicants is a good way to address that. My father was interested in teaching when he retired and would have been fantastic. I am interested in teaching, but the prospect of going back and getting a master’s degree to see if it’s something that I would be good at and would like to do is a pretty significant barrier.

    I don’t like that so much of teaching goes through Colleges of Education. My minor in education only intensified that dislike.Report

  37. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird – the point I’m making is that if we are discussing policy and possible changes to institutions we can’t make all our decisions based on the exceptions to the rules – i.e. harmful teachers. That’s a valid topic but hardly the focus of broad educational reform. There is a place for that subject, but in this post I wasn’t focusing on it. Typically people use that as a hammer to beat unions over the head with and my point here is that it can be handled without disrupting the unions. That’s all.

    Trumwill – I know the certification debate is a whole bag of its own worms, but there are a lot of programs out there designed to get people from the professional world quickly certified (fast-track one year programs, evening stuff, etc.) I guess I don’t see why that raises such a problem with people. If I wanted to go become a fireman or a cop I’d have to do something similar. If I wanted to go be an engineer or a lawyer I’d be facing a lot of schooling. The point of the certification programs is to get people ready to teach. If you already know your subject matter then it should be a breeze.Report

  38. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    New teachers are learning a lot about the multiple learning styles and intelligences that face them in their students, but current restrictions on teachers make it hard for them to implement smart approaches. Hands being tied and all.

    Okay. Do we have any real way of knowing if these theories are panning out? I know that it’s hard to measure results, but on what basis can I consider these approaches smart? Compared to something like DI that does seem to produce results at the expense of teacher autonomy?

    Also it’s just a myth that schools don’t get to staff their schools with personnel of their own choosing.

    With the teacher shortage and the restrictions placed on who they can hire, aren’t they at least partially at the mercy of who shows up to interview for an opening? I will backtrack on my comment about attracting more people to the profession attracting less talented people that they’re stuck with, though. Sounds like there are some good filters in place if the pool of applicants were to expand.

    Regarding the rest of it, though, if they do have latitude to fire within the first couple years… great! Glad to hear it! If you support this, we may not be quite as far apart as I supposed. I’m sure I would prefer that introductory period be longer and tenure granted less automatically, though. Tenure might be a good way of rewarding the notably good ones or the ones that aren’t bad or borderline bad.Report

  39. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    Just because we need another part of this debate in here, but one roadblock to broad educational reform is that education is controlled primarily at a state and local level. School districts have a large degree of control over teaching philosophies and such.

    There are also, in most places, alternative programs in school or alternative schools for children who learn in different styles. In my modest city of 250,000, there are three public alternatives for high school, one which is a grossly under funded vo-tech. There are also a range of public charter options for grade school kids. It is a bit of myth that public schools are one giant monolith.

    Jay- Plenty of harmful teachers get fired. Maybe there are anecdotes about some dufus not getting fired who deserved it, but i just havn’t seen anybody show that as a systematic problem.Report

  40. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Trumwill – the first two (or three) years of a teacher’s position are considered “probationary” and they can be let go of at any time. We just had every single teacher in our district that was probationary, a gym teacher, an art/music/theatre teacher, and all other “non-essential” teachers laid off.

    Too hard to fire?

    Not really.

    greginak – again, excellent points. This is why I argue in favor of public schools, deeply flawed though they may be, the potential is there.Report

  41. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    Before I sink my teeth into the details of this post more, I just want to register an objection to this:
    “In other professions we don’t refer to them as hoops anyways – like law school or medical school or having to get a PhD to teach at the college level etc.”

    1. Actually, in the legal profession, things like law school and bar examinations are definitely unnecessary hoops. I have a magnificent bridge to sell anyone who thinks that bar exams have anything at all to do with being a good attorney. And while law school is a wonderful experience that is one of the last bastions of a truly liberal education in this country, it often does little to prepare anyone for the day to day experience of being a lawyer.

    2. While it is true that a PhD. is usually necessary to get a full-time job as a four-year university professor, to my knowledge this is never (or almost never) a legal requirement. Moreover, a very cursory look at the full-time faculty for my local community college indicates that a pretty high percentage of them have only a masters in their field – including faculty in the humanities and social sciences. And one need not be at a JUCO to have adjuncts that lack a Ph.D. Finally, law professors usually don’t have any degrees beyond the very JD their students are trying to get. In fact, one very prominent professor of mine (who was also, I think, a full-time undergrad professor) had no doctorate of any kind – Ph.D. or JD. In some respects, there may even be lower barriers of entry to becoming a law professor or community college professor than there are to being a high school math teacher.

    3. Medical licensing is a bit of a different animal, given its life-or-death nature. I would, however, note that a pretty common idea for health care reform involves eliminating requirements that doctors perform certain procedures so that they may be performed by nurses.Report

  42. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    The problems with education, however, don’t exist in The Nice Part Of Town, though. That teacher in the LA times story that kicked off all of this stuff? He was teaching in district 58. If we make it so that F teachers can get fired, this will not have an effect on the teachers in The Nice Part Of Town. Heck, we could probably make it so that D- through D+ teachers could get fired and this still won’t have an effect upon 99% of the teachers in The Nice Part Of Town.

    The Institution in The Nice Part Of Town will remain unchanged. When it does change, the people move and open a charter school that is surprisingly like the old way before things changed in the Used To Be The Nice Part Of Town.Report

  43. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Maybe there are anecdotes about some dufus not getting fired who deserved it, but i just havn’t seen anybody show that as a systematic problem.”

    Like in the LA Times story that inspired all this sturm und drang?Report

  44. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ll start with Jaybird:

    The problem with firing teachers in Not Nice Part of Town is that this is the nature of inequality. The administrators, the teachers, everybody starts to feel the weight of being part of the Not Nice Part of Town. So it becomes hard to have proper oversight, and so on and so forth – but the real problem is that the town itself is Not So Nice. The real problem is at the heart of the community, and the school is just one of the many victims.

    Mark – I think there is always room for reform in all of these fields, but are you arguing that anybody should be able to be a lawyer with no accreditation whatsoever? Or maybe with just a BA? Where does one draw the line?

    Sometimes jumping through hoops is a good thing, in any case. You weed out those who aren’t serious about the gig they’re after.

    But I won’t argue that there isn’t room for reform in many professions…Report

  45. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    I take that back – I’m not done.
    This seems to undermine the point, rather than help it:
    “the first two (or three) years of a teacher’s position are considered “probationary” and they can be let go of at any time. We just had every single teacher in our district that was probationary, a gym teacher, an art/music/theatre teacher, and all other “non-essential” teachers laid off.”

    One of the biggest causes of the teaching shortage that you fear is that 1 out of every 3 teachers leaves the profession within five years (because of low starting pay and bad working conditions). The other cause that I’ve seen identified is that pensions for teachers vest pretty early such that teachers are retiring at an abnormally rapid rate. If tenure makes it impossible to fire or just lay off older teachers, the result is that the ax is going to fall on younger, untenured teachers without regard to whether the younger teacher is doing a better job than the older teacher. Long-term job security as an incentive to become a teacher is greatly mitigated and undermined if it comes with increased short-term job insecurity.Report

  46. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    And that’s a good point, Mark, and a problem for sure – though none of those layoffs would have been necessary with proper funding. That’s another problem. In any case, the problem still goes back to differentiating between good and bad teachers. Is the older teacher bad because their methodology is older? So we lay them off after twenty years because they’re not teaching the new trends like their “better” counterparts who just started?

    It’s not an easy answer. Maybe we should provide or demand ongoing education for teachers – I know some schools incentive continued education through pay increases. There’s lots of good, smart, and creative reforms we can implement without doing away with tenure or the unions.Report

  47. Avatar Stuart Buck
    Ignored
    says:

    Charter schools have more autonomy, yes. That amounts to autonomy over how they get to the goal of better performance on standardized tests. But that goal is still imposed on them in most cases (a phrasing I use not because I’m actually aware of any exceptions, but because there might be exceptions that I haven’t heard of).Report

  48. Avatar David
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ll jump back in because it seems to me this whole conversation went off the rails, and I’ll make two points: one about ED’s main argument, which I think we should focus on, and another about “hoops.” First, ED’s main point, to me, and the point you guys should be focusing on (listening Jaybird?), is this:

    Performance pay sounds great. It probably works in a lot of professions/jobs etc. But performance pay is predicated on having useful methodologies for measuring performance. And in education those methodologies are not accurate, useful, and in fact counterproductive. As a student who underwent loads of tests back when the craze was just starting, I can attest to the utter idiocy of trying to measure student achievement via tests. It hurts more than it helps. If you want to fire teachers based on performance, you need to come up with an argument about how to fairly measure that performance. This is ED’s main point, and Jaybird, if you want to fire all those evil union teachers so much, you need to respond to this most basic critique.

    As for the argument about too many hoops for hiring teachers: as a current law student (at a good law school) facing the bar in a year, let me attest that the truth of the following statements is basically agreed upon by all students and professors:

    LSAT scores do not measure success in law school, other than very roughly
    Grades do not measure success as a lawyer, other than very roughly
    Law school does not prepare you to be a lawyer
    Law school does not prepare you to pass the bar (you have to take a course to prep)
    The bar is stupid, pointless, and not a measure of anything you need to be a lawyer

    (I say this noting that I have done relatively well in law school – good grades, LSATs, jobs etc–but none of that really reflects anything other than my own ability to game the system).

    THAT said: law school is still very much a necessary credential that we should require of any lawyer, and so is passing the bar exam. Its not that the bar or law school measure anything about actual competence. Rather, they are a minimum. Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer, in a unquantifiable but important way, it doesn’t teach “what the law is” (in fact it teaches you how to be very critical that there could be such a thing). The bar requires you to show a minimum level of competence in gathering knowledge and dispensing it.

    The same insights are true for the “hoops” that teachers must go thru. These hoops often seem unfair or unnecessary or too onerous to those who can’t jump through them. But they serve as a basic competency test. Is a BA really necessary to teach? Of course not. One could be a great teacher without a BA. But a BA is a credential, and like all credentials it demonstrates you have a minimum level of competence. That competence is necessary to be a teacher. If you can’t get a BA, it shows not that you don’t have the requisite knowledge of science or whatever, it shows, MORE IN LIKELY, that you some of the same skills necessary to succeed at teaching – responsibility, intelligence, etc — are not present. I find it interesting that the same people who often argue for performance pay- based on standardized testing- want to loosen teaching standards based on very similar tests. The difference between the two, for me, is that teaching credentials measure minimal competence, while student testing (though it also measures minimal competence) is not sufficiently accurate to base conclusions about hiring and firing on.

    By way of anecdote, my sister is law currently wants to be a teacher desperately, and she can’t because she can’t pass the teacher exam. Her parents bitch and moan about how onerous the exam is and how unfair life is and those stupid unions (much like Jaybird’s sister). But honestly, I wouldn’t want her teaching my kids. She’s just not competent enough, she doesn’t have the brains. Yes the test is not perfect and not fair and whatever. Its the LSAT of the teaching profession. But honestly, if you can’t pass it, you shouldn’t be teaching. And when its your family its hard to see that. But its true. If the hoops are too difficult for someone, maybe thats not a sign that the hoops are too high, rather its a sign that the person can’t jump high enough.

    All of this said, I’d still like to see a anti-teachers union advocate argue against ED’s main point above.Report

  49. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Fantastic post, David. Indeed, the conversation has veered, thanks for setting us straight. Your points on minimum standards are excellent – otherwise, where do we draw basic lines in the sand? And these are much more unique to the individual in question than student tests that he/she presides over…Report

  50. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “I can attest to the utter idiocy of trying to measure student achievement via tests. It hurts more than it helps. If you want to fire teachers based on performance, you need to come up with an argument about how to fairly measure that performance. This is ED’s main point, and Jaybird, if you want to fire all those evil union teachers so much, you need to respond to this most basic critique. ”

    I keep being surprised at the amount of pushback to the idea that awful teachers ought to be fired. “How are you measuring an awful teacher, huh?” is a very interesting question. Perhaps we could look at it on a case by case basis. Let’s say that there is a teacher who mocks a student for a failed suicide attempt (obviously a cry for help) and points out that the kid is such a failure that he can’t even kill himself right, thus encouraging other students to make the kid even more miserable.

    How would you quantify the poorness of this particular teacher? Is it measurable? For (apparently only) me, it seems that “holy crap that’s really shitty!” is sufficient grounds to say that this teacher should not be paid to handle children. Fire him. (Assuming, of course, the teacher really did this, etc. We all know the real danger of students doing everything they possibly can to ruin the lives of teachers is one that needs to be fought against tooth and claw.)

    If, however, this attitude of mine is overly emotional and does not look at how many lives this teacher is touching, molding, and otherwise changing and focusing solely on a stupid loser kid who can’t even kill himself right, well… maybe you’re right. Maybe we do need to double down on what we’ve been doing so far.

    For the record, my sister didn’t complain about the stupid unions. She complained about the stupid PLACE. She is now one of the teachers that parents agitate to get their kids in her class. Needless to say, she teaches in the part of town that has parents that care which of the teachers out there teach their kid. This may or may not be a decent measure of how good she is, of course. I don’t know.

    As for ED’s basic critique of education… I don’t know about performance pay. It’s easy to say “holy crap, that’s bad” about any given teacher. One that has pot parties in his basement is probably a bad teacher. One that makes, ahem, “artistic” movies with his (or her) students in his (or her) basement is probably a bad one. One that makes fun of a student for screwing up a suicide is probably a bad one.

    A good teacher? All my life, I’ve been blessed with good teachers. The worst teacher I had would probably qualify as a “C+/B-” by my fairly arbitrary scale of “did I learn?” and the majority were much, much better than that. How do you test to see if a student learns? Well… you can pretty much tell at the 10 year class reunion. The folks who don’t show up because they are busy with their fulfilling career and have nothing to prove to those folks are successes. The folks who go back because of the bonds they forged in high school and want to show off their spouses and pictures of their beautiful kids are as well. The ones who can’t go because they are in prison probably aren’t. The ones who don’t go because they can’t read the invitation probably aren’t. Sure. It’s hard to measure a “successful” student without seeing what happens the decade after they leave school.

    The fact that this makes performance pay difficult to allocate (and makes the worry that performance pay will go to crony friends or lovers of the decision maker(s) a very real one).

    I don’t see how that is anywhere near as important as the issue of how oh-so-very difficult it is to fire a bad teacher. I can’t really “measure” bad for you, though. I still don’t know how to quantify the badness of the teacher in the story that inspired all of this. Could you quantify it for me?Report

  51. Avatar Mark Thompson
    Ignored
    says:

    David: For somewhat obvious reasons, I don’t want to get into this too much more, but…(1) Law school doesn’t teach one to “think like a lawyer” any differently than a good liberal arts education (which is, unfortunately, becoming an increasingly rare species); (2) The state law portion of just about any law exam is virtually indistinguishable from a law school exam – the main difference is just that it incorporates multiple subjects in one exam. There’s no reason one couldn’t learn to “think like a lawyer” better by being an apprentice to an attorney for a few years than by attending law school – a small handful of states still understand this and thus permit people to sit for the bar who have not gone to law school (which I can’t emphasize enough is in fact a wonderful liberal education that has become far too rare outside of law school). I’d also note that other countries have much different licensing requirements for lawyers, requiring only an undergrad law degree (which is extinct in the US) plus a relatively short apprenticeship and perhaps passage of a bar exam (whether that exam is more relevant to the practice of law than here, I do not know). And that says nothing about the absurdity of insisting that one’s admission be limited to one particular state.Report

  52. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    the first two (or three) years of a teacher’s position are considered “probationary” and they can be let go of at any time.

    These are not the teachers I’m talking about being too hard to fire. So… do you think this probationary period should exist? Or once hired, never fired (absent gross misconduct, of course)? If you’re on board with the probationary period, then our only real disagreement there is how long that period should be and what the terms of it should be. If you don’t think that we should have any sort of probationary period, then I’m back to wondering what kind of autonomy you’re willing to give school administrators.

    I find it interesting that the same people who often argue for performance pay- based on standardized testing- want to loosen teaching standards based on very similar tests.

    If the requirement to become a teacher were to take a test that they can self-study for, I would be totally on board with that. What I would like to see, though, is more recruiting of people that already have advanced education and perhaps relevant experience and not treat them as the equivalent as a 20-year old kid that just got out of college. They may have a lot to bring to the table, including warm bodies (if we’re still concerned about the shortage). It’s all neat and tidy to say “Well, if they want to be a teacher, they should be willing to jump through hoops.” And maybe they will and maybe they won’t. The thing is, though, that often when they don’t, they’re not the ones that lose. Our schools are.

    Maybe these people won’t be great teachers. Maybe they will. One of the reasons that I would like more flexibility on the part of administration is so that they can try different things to close openings. Such programs do exist, but they are often far more provisional than the “probationary period” that EDK talks about. If a fully-certified teacher applies for your job, the school can be required to let you go. Or they may take that other person not because they would be a better teacher but because they lose outside funding when proportionally fewer of their teachers come from the “right” background.

    I would again use my father as an example. Advanced degrees relating to math. Temperamentally perfect for teaching. Indeed, he taught me about as much as math as any of my certified math teachers did. Thirty years of experiencing as the deputy CFO for a large entity with a budget in the millions of dollars. He wanted to teach, but nothing in his background was remotely as important as not having gone through a College of Education. So Dad spends his time going on cruises and puttering around the house and local school districts can’t find enough math teachers. The hoops one has jumped through could indeed be a good indicator of how good a teacher one is. But it should not be the only indicator.

    Likewise, I am interested in becoming a teacher a couple years down the road. I have a college degree, a minor in education, and significant knowledge over what I might be teaching. But if I want to get a job, none of that matters nearly as much as the fact that I didn’t know that I’d want to be a teacher when I decided my major when I was 18 and because by the time I was 22 I needed to get a job that actually paid me money. But hey, if whatever state I end up in doesn’t have an alternative certification program and if I decide that I’d be a stay-at-home father instead of jumping through those hoops, I’ll be fine. Meanwhile, schools are having a lot of difficulty recruiting computer science teachers.

    What kinds of things would I support for alternative certification? A lot of places have such programs, but I would like to see them more aggressively pursued. Having a self-study test would be great. Maybe an extensive orientation over a summer followed by a test. A relevant college degree plus a test and/or extensive orientation.** But not having to go back to school and getting a degree from a CoE before being able to step foot in a classroom and embarking on a career that I may or may not be well suited for.

    ** – This is assuming that we don’t look at something more radical where some teachers get larger classes and a classroom assistant for a year to whom they show the ropes and get help from.Report

  53. Avatar David Young
    Ignored
    says:

    First: Jaybird, on your argument, I think we all agree. No one is saying we shouldn’t be allowed to fire the awful teachers/human beings you describe in your post. Its indefensible to think otherwise. But as ED noted, those who are truly awful as you describe are the rare cases, and making sure its possible to fire them (to the extent thats already not possible) doesn’t require breaking the backs of the unions or ending tenure . You’ve heard of these cases because they are rare enough to be newsworthy. Now you might say there are plenty of “bad teachers” at every school in the sense that many are ineffective at teaching, but when you jump from the awful to the bad you run into the measurement problem discussed earlier. How do we measure? From my experience, “bad” teachers tended be the young ones who had trouble controlling the class, and they will probably get better. Even with the “worst” teachers (in the substantive, not asshole, sense) still impart plenty of knowledge, it just requires more effort from the students to learn it.

    As to Mark’s points: agree on all counts. As someone who hasn’t taken the bar yet (can’t wait!! :-p), I’ll defer to you on that whether or not an apprenticeship would do. And as someone who doesn’t know where he wants to live (its between DC, Boston, and the Pacific NW), the fact that my license will only be in one state is very aggravating.Report

  54. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    David, if you remember the original article, look at how much effort needed to be put into firing that one awful teacher. Look at how much money had to be spent. When you say you think we all agree, allow me to point you to the people who disagreed with what I said above… including you.

    “But as ED noted, those who are truly awful as you describe are the rare cases, and making sure its possible to fire them (to the extent thats already not possible) doesn’t require breaking the backs of the unions or ending tenure . ”

    It’s like you’re wishing I was arguing something else…

    “Now you might say there are plenty of “bad teachers” at every school in the sense that many are ineffective at teaching, but when you jump from the awful to the bad you run into the measurement problem discussed earlier.”

    And now I know you are.

    I am not arguing that we break the backs of the unions or end tenure… unless, of course, that is what is required to fire teachers as bad as the one in the story.

    If that’s the case, allow me to uncategorically state that less harm will be done to children by lowering the barriers to entry and making it easier to fire bad teachers than will be done by doubling down. Again.

    Is it your position that making it easier to fire the truly awful would require ending tenure and breaking the backs of the unions?

    That lowering the barriers to entry while, at the same time, making it easier to fire bad teachers would harm more children than help them? (Again, I’m not talking about measuring the Cs vs the Bs vs the As teachers and giving money to the best ones… I’m just talking about the whole “Don’t Be Evil” thing and not the “Be Good” thing… because I believe that the mitigating the harm of the bad ones is the most important issue.)

    If we want more teachers, we can do one of two things: Increase Demand or we can Lower The Barriers To Entry. It seems that “increasing funding” is close to “Increasing Demand”. Have we been doing something like that? How has that been working?

    What are the barriers to entry? Are there more or fewer than in the past? If there are more, might we want to switch back to less? Or would that be more damaging to children than firing the bad ones?Report

  55. Avatar Kevin Carson
    Ignored
    says:

    The problem with “performance” pay is that it assumes the good faith of management: that their primary objective is to identify performance and reward it. But I suspect school administrations are like the senior management in any private sector corporate bureaucracy. Their primary goal is to feather their own nests, and whatever “performance” metrics they use will be aimed primarily at massaging the numbers to game their own bonuses. And the “low performing” teachers will, surprisingly often, be those with improper attitudes toward those in authority.Report

  56. Avatar David
    Ignored
    says:

    “Sometimes teachers need to be fired, and maybe some rules need to be altered in order to pave the way to a better system.” -ED

    ED has stated that position twice now, and I’ve indicated I agree with it. That was where I think we are all in agreement. Jaybird, it sounds like your position is that if rule changes solve this problem, fine, but otherwise we need to end tenure (“I am not arguing that we break the backs of the unions or end tenure… unless, of course, that is what is required to fire teachers as bad as the one in the story”-Jaybird).

    I guess our remaining disagreement is that I’m not convinced that the freaky, awful teachers that seem to be your central focus are the anywhere near the largest problem in schools, or that a conversation about how to improve school performance should be focusing on it. The LA times article cited in the update was a study of the 159 cases of tenure teacher firings over the last 15 years, and it only focused on those cases that were appealed. Presumably there were plenty of horrible teachers who never bothered to appeal, and the article may well have been using the most egregious cases to illustrate. I realize the number of awful teachers who were never fired is surely much higher, given that principles might not try to fire some people, but still, in a state with 30 Million people having only 159 cases in which terrible teacher firings were appealed (and not all appeals were won) over 15 years does not seem to me to be an overwhelming problem. I agree that its a problem, no one is saying its not, but solving that problem is not going to magically improve educational performance overall. Because I think the problem is less important than media makes it seem, I am less inclined to think that we need to get rid of the tenure system simply so we can ensure that bad apples get fired. Tenure has benefits (see my earlier comment about academic freedom and Kevin’s insightful post about improper attitudes toward authority), and I think we shouldn’t be willing to discard those benefits so quickly.

    That said, back to the rest of ED’s post: why is there a shortage of teachers? I don’t really ascribe it to the “barriers to entry”, because I think those barriers serve a useful function of ensuring minimal quality. Its hard to see how lowering the barriers is going to get higher quality teachers.

    Instead, I think the real reason for the lack of supply is that teaching just doesn’t get the respect it deserves. As part of a generation that is just entering the professions, I can honestly say a lot of it is money, but also the general belief that teachers aren’t that well respected in our society. My educational loans were just too high to consider doing something where the pay is so low, but I was also attracted to other fields just because it seemed like there was more prestige and respect in them. Prestige is a stupid thing to worry about, I realize, but thats a driving factor for many when you talk about career choices.

    The last thing keeping me out of the teaching profession was just realizing that its a whole hell of a lot harder than it looks. I volunteered in an inner city school teaching a economics course once a week, and the kids were so undisciplined that I spent all of my time trying to keep order. And there were only like 15 kids. It was immensely frustrating, and the only solace I got was the knowledge that I gave the real teacher 1 hour a week to catch up on her lesson plans while I “supervised” the little terrors. It was that experience that made me realize I wasn’t going to be one of those awesome teachers from the movies that changes everyone’s life. And once that sort of vision of making a huge difference vanishes, teaching looks a lot less attractive. Its kind of like law school: once you realize that you aren’t going to stand up for justice and all that is right and good in this world, you say to yourself, “why the hell did I just drop 160k for this degree?” !$%@#!Report

  57. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    Its hard to see how lowering the barriers is going to get higher quality teachers.

    Because a lot of potentially great teachers did not go to college with the intention of becoming a teacher. Instead, they majored in something else. Some subject happens to need to be taught to high schoolers. So these people have jobs that they don’t find as fulfilling and might want to teach. These people then have the choice of continuing to work at their job and earn a paycheck or quitting, throwing money at going back to school, and then eventually become a fully certified teacher.

    I guess my main disagreement with EDK and you is that I think that mastery of the subject is far more important than the adolescent psych and instructional technologies that one learns in CoE. Some people may know the subject matter and couldn’t teach worth anything, but a lot really can. How does a school know which is which? Well, the same way that you hope that a graduate from a CoE knows what he or she is doing.

    I’m not saying that the credentials are useless. They are an important signifier that this person might be a good teacher. But they aren’t everything. I find it baffling that EDK considers further credentialism as the work-around for pay-for-performance. Basing pay primarily (either solely or in conjunction with seniority) on whether or not they took and passed some ed classes would not be very high on my list of ways to differentiate between teachers.

    The best teacher I had in high school was a chemical engineer that got bored. So he came to teach and he was enthusiastic and he wanted to be there and he was a ton better than the career science teachers. Fortunately, the state had lowered the barrier of entry by allowing him to concurrently teach and take classes. The result was a good teacher.

    Having a family to support, it would have been much harder for him to quit his job, go back to school and get the teaching degree (or alternately spend half-a-decade attending night classes and missing his kid growing up) and he probably wouldn’t have done it and it would have been everybody’s loss.

    I want to see a lot more of that.Report

  58. Avatar Kevin Carson
    Ignored
    says:

    Even assuming a BA in education (rather than, say, a minor in education and a major in the subject matter) should be required for teaching, there’s still something wrong with a promotional system that tracks pay to “professoinal development” centered on post-grad education classes.

    No offense intended to anyone with an ed degree, but I worked as a grad assistant long ago, and the teaching assistants I knew were almost unanimous when it came to horror stories about the almost preternatural ignorance of education majors.Report

  59. Avatar caltha.palustris
    Ignored
    says:

    E.D. Kain,

    Just after the Charter School amendment passed in our state legislature here, I attended a workshop on Charter School planning. At one of the break-out sessions, I had opportunity to listen to a principal at a magnet school with a science and math based curriculum. The principal stated that yes, tenure makes it harder to fire poorly performing teachers – but it is not impossible.
    Much of a K-12 school system’s success, or failure, has to do with the tone set by administrators and principals. That is: to set standards and enforce them (think: the concept of “leading by example”), and if there is a culture (just as in business) that does not enforce the standards, then yes…quality education is doomed.
    However, it is possible to document poor performance, and rid the system of teachers who do not positively contribute to a student body’s educational development. This principal used two maxims: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” and “The proof is in the pudding.”
    An absentee board of education, and a school administration staff that is unwilling, or inhibited, to document poor performance and let the status quo continue, then yes…it seems impossible to fire lousy teachers.Report

  60. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Right, caltha – which is true of any business as well. A culture is created top-down. Administrators or managers who decide to let a poor performing employee or teacher continue without review or direction is very much to blame.

    A couple years after I graduated high school three teachers from my school were fired, flat-out, for sleeping with students. In one year. They have not been in review for years. They have not gotten their jobs back. They are gone, baby gone.Report

  61. As this looks to be comment 62 I hope I am not plowing ground that has already been covered above.

    From E.D.

    This is one reason accreditation and actual teaching degrees for teachers make sense to me, in the same way that law degrees and bar membership make sense for lawyers.

    I so often agree with your take on things but you and I diverge on this issue I am afraid. In a former life I was an archaeologist for 3 years and my company primarily focused on ‘public archaeology’ and educational programs aimed at kids. It was an extremely rewarding experience and we greatly enjoyed the collaboration with other education professionals. One thing that was frustrating though was the contention by more than one teacher that we were merely providing information and they were interpreting it for the kids and making it a ‘learning experience’. They scoffed at the notion that kids could be educated by individuals without a teaching degree.

    Matthew Yglesias wrote about alternative certification for teachers awhile back. I am a big proponent of this idea because it would bring individuals into the teachign field who are passionate about the subject matter and well-versed in a particular subject. In addition to my Anthropology degree I have a BA in History as well. I would LOVE to spend a couple of years (or longer) teaching history at the high school level. I have experience working with kids, I like public speaking and I think I would be pretty good at it. The school system says that i am not qualified to do so. Instead they will allow someone who majored in Business and then took a couple of history classes as part of an ambiguous teaching certification to teach history instead of me.

    Where is the logic in that?

    Imagine placing well-educated individuals from a variety of fields into the classroom after a 12-week crash course on teaching methods, giving them a teacher-mentor, and letting them teach the subject they are well-versed in? Biologists teaching biology. Mathematicians teachign math. Historians teaching history. Is that so novel a concept?

    There’s a lot we can do to improve our schools. You say that teaching degrees will make teachers be taken more seriously as professionals…I say how about letting professionals teach?Report

  62. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Imagine placing well-educated individuals from a variety of fields into the classroom after a 12-week crash course on teaching methods, giving them a teacher-mentor, and letting them teach the subject they are well-versed in?

    So, you mean like a teaching certificate? If I wanted to start teaching I’d go to the local university, take a 12 month certification course, and I’d have my teaching degree.Report

  63. Avatar Cascadian
    Ignored
    says:

    This just seems too big a problem to even open up. My wife is a very good teacher that works in a school district that pays teachers a bit extra. Though she thinks well of some of her colleagues, she doesn’t think the quality of teachers over all at her school are better than her previous school district that lacked the extra pay. We home school.

    We started this year out in an accelerated program. After a semester, with very little math, and most one on one quality teaching came from the parents, we pulled her back to home schooling.

    We also had a union problem in our school. There were a couple of long time employees that used their union positions to establish petty rule over other teachers and the principles. I just saw that they’ve succeeded in pushing out the current principle…. third in two years.

    Ultimately, education needs to be reformulated. We’re in an information age but still using some steampunk version of education. We need to have serious schools for the trades. We need meat and potato schools for the vast middle and programs for those parents that are willing to actually put in the work that it takes.

    There’s also the issue of adult education. When technology changes as fast as it has one can’t rely on the education of ones youth. I’d support a government funded wiki or some such. Though to have it done right, it will most likely have to be done through the istore. I’d pay $1.99 to hear a great lecture or download a lesson.Report

  64. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “If I wanted to start teaching I’d go to the local university, take a 12 month certification course, and I’d have my teaching degree.”

    In Colorado, at least, you’d need more than that… unless you were willing to teach at a non-union charter school.Report

  65. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    I wouldn’t be so loud on this subject if all that were required were one year of study (in addition to education/experience in the subject-matter being taught) for full-fledged certification. That’s not what I’ve seen so far. States that have these programs widely available are not so much the source of my aggravation.Report

  66. I will second what Jaybird says. In KY it’s typically a 2-year master’s program to teach in the larger school systems. What I see as even more concerning is that you don’t even get into a classroom until the 1 year mark. At that point you are pretty invested in the program and the thought of bailing is pretty scary. So then these graduate reluctantly start teaching and find they hate it.

    If they offered 12 week certifications with mentoring a lot of professionals might be persuaded to take a year off to teach. Employers could even allow them a paid sabbatical as a sort of charitable donation to the local school system. The school system wouldn’t have to pay them and the corporation would get kudos for helping the community.

    I’m talking about a scenario where a constitutional lawyer could take a paid leave of absence from his firm in May, get 3 months of training in techniques and be teaching kids civics by August. If he has problems, there is an experienced teacher in the room next door that will mentor him with basic ‘how-to’ stuff. Personally I would love to have my kid in that class, even if the lawyer is a little rough around the edges in his presentation, rather than a 20-year school system burnout who lost their passion to teach ages ago.

    Look at it this way, organizations like the Peace Corps send young people abroad with a short amount of training and they do extraordinary things. Why do we not trust professionals to do the same in our schools? Is teaching this mysterious thing that only 2 years of grad school can prepare us for?

    Even with a Masters in a specific subject you cannot teach in many districts without a teaching certificate. If we allow a History graduate student to teach undergrads why would we not allow him to also teach high schoolers?Report

  67. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    One additional point to Mike’s – it’s not just two years of grad school that’s a problem, it’s that it’s two years of grad school on top of four years of undergrad. That’s a total of six years of schooling one must undergo in those states to become a teacher – even going to state schools, that’s a pretty hefty investment to undertake.Report

  68. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    I’m not really sure of any state that requires any more than a Bachelors with a certificate to teach. Maybe if you already have a 4 year degree you’ll need to go on to do your MA or get a second Bachelors, but I have looked all around the country and can’t find any where the base educational requirements are any more than a 4 year degree.Report

  69. Avatar Mike
    Ignored
    says:

    It’s not a state requirement, it’s a district requirement. Here in KY you can teach in some districts with a BA. The larger cities like Louisville and Lexington require an MA.Report

  70. Avatar Trumwill
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    says:

    I think the bachelors/masters is one thing that they do get right (except, apparently, some districts in Kentucky). It is preferred that teachers do have a master’s. I don’t think that the master’s needs to be in education, necessarily, but higher degrees should be preferred and rewarded. They shouldn’t be a requirement, though, if they bring something else to the table (a willingness to teach a subject where there is a shortage, work experience, a natural gift, etc).Report

  71. I guess my point is that even if we only require teachers to have a BA, what is preferable? Someone with 4 years of learning various ‘teaching techniques’ or someone with 4 years studying the field they are actually going to teach? I’ve read a lot of horr stories from parents whose kid’s teachers don’t seem to really have a grasp of the subject matter they are teaching. I think we need to get back to emphasizing a mastery of the subject over teaching methods. As I said, we don’t require college professors to have a teaching certificate. Why force it at the lower levels?Report

  72. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Mike – yes but that’s certainly not the only thing they do for four years. There is a lot of area-specific training. Of course for elementary school that’s different since those teachers need training in many subjects.

    One reason to teach people how to teach at the lower levels is to make them better teachers – often professors are not the greatest teachers, and often the ones that are have had some teaching experience as TA’s etc.

    But again, there may be some room for reform w/out scrapping the whole of it…Report

  73. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    There’s a joke that gets told from time to time in IT (elsewhere too, probably).

    “Job Requirements: Master Electrician. Job Description: Changing Lightbulbs, Plugging/unplugging extension cords.”

    What are the teachers *REALLY* doing? What are the *REAL* requirements for what they are really doing? Does an MA provide these things, really?

    It seems more to me that the students in this part of town might need a teacher with an MA, sure… but the teachers in that part of town need little more than a BA in child psych and the ability to read ahead one chapter in the textbook. Setting standards for educator excellence that apply to the Prep school and making this the standard for every school strikes me as a great way to ensure failure… for the people who don’t go to the schools in this part of town.Report

  74. E.D.

    I’m not suggesting we scrap the whole system. I’m suggesting that alternative certification would be a nice way to augment the current system. I think the passion that comes with someone leaving their field to teach for a couple of years would be infectious. The problem is (and I don’t mean this to sound like a conspiracy theory) that the universities and the school systems are in cahoots together. Both fiercely resist the notion that someone can be a good teacher without graduate certification.

    I would be a lot more willing to accept the MA requirement if teachers were required to get their undergrads in the subject they are going to teach. At the University of Louisville, for example, if you are going through the MA program to teach social studies, they make you take a couple of economics classes, a couple of geography classes and a couple of history classes. I don’t think that is enough preparation.

    I think a 4-year program where you are preparing to teach a specific subject is ideal. I’m sure they exist, but most BA programs are generic ‘elementary education’ or ‘secondary education’ degrees which over-emphasize teaching techniques and under-emphasize subject matter. I know a girl who took 2 college-level psychology classes, got ehr MA and now teaches college credit Psych 101 in a local highschool. That’s pretty messed up.Report

  75. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Totally, Mike. And that’s what they’ve done to some degree at the University here – implementing a one-year “fast track” program to get people who already have degrees and work in other fields teaching. I think it’s a very good response to this need – and we need more things like it, involving the universities, schools, and the private sector in coming up with creative ways to ensure quality and flexibility.Report

  76. Avatar F.D. Aigner
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    says:

    I came across this thread after searching for “teachers” and “chattel”. I came to teaching after being in the civil engineering field, and I’ve been at it for 14 years. I am still shocked at how poor the working conditions are for most teachers… how many professionals do you know who get, maybe, a bathroom break every 4 hours? 15 minutes for lunch? No prep time? A buddy who is an attorney and has approximately the same amount of education I do is constantly amazed (and not in a good way) when I regale him with stories of the indignities to which we’re subjected as a profession. Imagine an attorney being given no prep time by his firm! I’m now contemplating leaving the field and going back to civil engineering, and the only thing that has kept me from doing so are my students. I love ’em. Teaching is way more fun than sitting at a drafting table. But there’s a limit to what anyone who considers themselves a professional can take, and education’s getting worse, not better. The standardization that is happening is ruining the field, and if there was one crux, one nadir, I’d say it comes down to people pretending that education is a science. It isn’t. Get over it. A typical study I read recently used kids in another classroom from a different year as the control. Absolutely laughable, that one is. Another highly-touted education thinktanker released a study in which all the research she cited was her own. So, her research was correct because she previously said it was. Laughable.Report

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