Teaching Moments



Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar paul h. says:

    This seems like the most straightforward no-brainer reform imaginable, and I can’t figure out why Freddie would be in any way opposed to itReport

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    As a crazy nutball libertarian, let me say this:

    A child starts Kindergarden around 5 or 6. Between then and whenever, he or she will spend more than 50% of his or her waking hours in the hands of a government employee while surrounded/socialized by other children his or her own age.

    The fact that the current debate revolves around the difficulty in firing the government employee in question strikes me as secondary to how fundamentally fucked up this dynamic is in the first place.

    But, then, I’m one of those crazy nutball libertarians.Report

  3. Avatar Will says:

    paul h. –

    At the American Scene, the discussion revolved around the LA Times article, not DC school reform.

    That said, there are a few reasonable objections to Rhee’s program. The most persuasive, to my mind, is that holding teachers accountable for improving student performance in such a crummy environment is unfair and counterproductive. I still think the performance-based pay program is worth trying, but I understand where its opponents are coming from.Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Performance-based pay runs into so, so, so many problems not the least of which is any sort of program designed to test performance is bound to come with its own set of improper incentives:

    1) It relegates education to what’s quantifiable, which goes against every good thing about education, limiting our learning (and teaching) to standardized tests (the logical conclusion of any attempt to measure performance).

    2) It encourages teaching to tests, and beyond that it encourages uniformity in teaching across the country which cannot hope to be inclusive of the many regional, historical and ethnic differences.

    3) It takes into account the finishing line but not the starting line for many teachers and schools. The real problem that will never change is the students you get. You can be an excellent teacher and still get stuck with a classroom full of disadvantaged kids with single moms at home etc. etc. etc. You’re simply not going to be a great performer in this situation.

    More on this later. My own post in the works.Report

  5. Avatar Will says:

    E.D. –

    As I said above, I’m sympathetic to your third objection, though the HuffPo article I link to provides some pretty compelling evidence that good teachers can overcome structural barriers. As for points 1&2:

    1.) I’d venture that compensating teachers – whether it be through tenure or performance-based bay – “quantifies” education. We’ve already crossed that bridge.

    2.) Standardized tests suck, but I can’t think of any other metric to determine student achievement.Report

  6. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    1 – compensating teachers is not quantifying education, it’s simply paying for it. Moving to performance pay based on national standards would require quantification however. I’m not against performance pay at the local level at the jurisdiction of district or school administrators though I think it raises some concerns.

    2 – Standardized tests do suck. My idea is that we stop trying to use metrics to determine student achievement other than graduation rates and job placement/school placement results. The rest is noise.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Could we offer students one of the standardized tests from, say, 1968 and see how they do on it? If they do significantly worse, can we say that the stuff that we’ve changed since, say, 1968 has been a change for the worse and maybe we could go back to doing some of the stuff that they did in 1968?

    Or are there so many dynamics that have changed since then that a comparison would be meaningless and that’s why we have to double-down on what we’re doing now?Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Oh – and even when we have those metrics they are still mostly meaningless. What we need is a radical overhaul of how we do education – but this overhaul does not require disbanding unions or moving toward performance pay, or any other “market” strategy. We’re thinking about markets all wrong here. We need to produce graduates ready to join the market – who are marketable – not create schools that follow market solutions.

    That being said, we also need to move toward autonomy for our teachers and schools, which requires a hands off approach from the government, but still requires $$$. But again – more on this later.Report

  9. Avatar Will says:

    Jaybird –

    I suspect that schools in 1968 simply weren’t dealing with the problems we face today, so I don’t think emulating their approach to education (whatever that may have been) will solve anything.

    ED –

    1.) This strikes me as a debate over semantics. I think we should “pay” teachers based on performance. I don’t see how you can commission someone to perform a task without quantifying that task’s value.

    2.) Obviously, I’m in favor of local control. Job placement/school placement might work, though a lot of that stuff is subject to external factors that have nothing to do with schooling (who you know, whether you’re a legacy etc.) Relying purely on graduation rates could also be problematic – after all, a school with really low standards might graduate a lot of kids because its curriculum is so easy.Report

  10. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    1 – Right…to some degree. I am not a huge fan of paying based on performance over-all because of a number of reasons (which speak to #2). On the one hand teachers (or schools) might try to graduate more students in order to get the numbers up, but the numbers would then be false. On the other hand, if we are to move to standardized tests to avoid this, we end up creating uniformity and relegating the larger educational experience to a relatively useless process of test-teaching.

    So I don’t think performance pay (or funding) is a good idea in the long run. I support higher pay across the board – though I don’t think it needs to be too much higher – and more localized control for teachers. Treat teachers like professionals, with respect, pay them a bit more, and give them control over their classes and content (within reason) and you’ll see positive changes. This is a simpler solution than most think.

    Then we need to create options for kids who are simply not academics. Trade schools for grades 11 and 12 which are not college prep schools. This will increase graduation rates and job placement. Once again, treat trade school teachers like professionals, give them control etc.

    And fund the damn schools. Cut from administrative costs and distribute revenue evenly.Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It strikes me that a huge chunk of (if not the downright majority of) problems were are facing today that we were not facing in 1968 are iatrogenic in nature.Report

  12. Avatar Badger says:

    How is a classroom in New York different than a classroom in Los Angeles? Is it really the case that change the algebra-geometry-trig progression will produce different resulting in NY than LA? Even where you are likely to see local differences, centralization renders them moot. A neighborhood of children of engineers will have different needs and aptitudes than a neighborhood of children of performing artists is something I’m sure we will all concede. This isn’t the norm however and to speak of the average school is to make an intelligent statement of better than 80% of them.

    As far as pay goes, going back 2 generations we find that students were typically not educated by someone with a Masters degree. Many times there wasn’t a Bachelor’s degree. The idea that the common man can’t teach 4th grade math is a proposition continually given but never proved. If anything we are probably eliminating better teachers from the qualified pool because of ridiculous education requirements. The biggest problem with performance based pay is that we pretend we can speak with a level of precision that we simply can’t. A class increasing their Math SAT by 10 points could be a lot of factors, but one of the least likely factors is the comparative skill of the teacher.Report

  13. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Jaybird – indeed, so many of the world’s problems are…

    Badger – classrooms across the country are in fact extraordinarily different. Such is the nature of such a massive country. Does the basic math change? No. Does the method to teach it effectively change from one school to the next? Yes. From one classroom to the next? Yes. From one student to the next? YES. So national standards and tests to measure them fall woefully short of the realities facing teachers (and students) in the real world, regardless of the fact that trig in Arizona is the same as it is in New York.Report

  14. Avatar Badger says:

    Perhaps, if you were to outline the essential differences in teaching math regionally I could understand your argument better. You’ve already conceded that the math itself isn’t essentially different.Report

  15. I’ve got all sorts of problems with over-reliance on standardized testing. But, I don’t see why teachers should be exempt from the kinds of incentives that just about everyone else has to face in their jobs. The odd thing about discussion over merit pay is that it’s assumed by both sides that merit pay needs to be tied to raw standardized test scores.

    What is strange about this is that it’s not how merit pay works for most people in the real world. For most people, our pay is based on our boss’ evaluation of our performance, which may or may not incorporate some sort of standard measurement of performance, but is rarely solely based on that universal measurement. In the case of schools, this would usually mean simply giving principals more autonomy over personnel decisions. Particularly in smaller districts, it then becomes pretty easy to hold that principal accountable for bad teachers via school board elections (this is obviously not so easy in large districts – but there are ways around this problem).Report

  16. Avatar greginak says:

    I think the problem with incentive pay is that so much of student performance is not under the control of the teacher. Parental involvement is a huge factor in children’s motivation and performance. Also poverty is strongly linked with school performance. So how well can you judge a teachers performance? That being said I am not particularly against performance based pay, except for I don’t see any way it does much to improve education.

    I know the free market ideologues believe sprinkling some magic competition dust will improve schools but I have never actually seen anybody show how teachers or their unions are the problem we face with education. Blaming unions and teachers is an ideological complaint from the right wing. I am not saying it may not have some merit but on its own it is inadequate to understand our educational system. Oh and we have a country where a largeish number of people believe in creationism, so how smart do you think adults are in this country.

    If we want to improve education we need to look at a lot more then just teachers pay. How about fully funding and expanding Head Start programs? (These have a long history of success)

    Making preschool cheaper and more available?

    Having parents get more involved with their children’s schools?

    Offer more vocational programs for high school students who aren’t on a college track?

    Decrease classroom size especially for grade school kids? ( This has been shown to have a consistent positive impact on children’s performance)Report

  17. E.D. – since this is the issue on which we first encountered each other, why do I have a feeling that I’m going to have to put together a follow-up?Report

  18. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Beat you to it, Mark. I see your follow-up and raise you…er…a follow-up!Report