teaching and choice

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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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21 Responses

  1. While I think the conservative impulse is to beat up on the teachers (or at least the unions that represent them) and that impulse needs to be reined back in…I also think there’s a tendency in other circles to make a lot of excuses.

    Yes, judging teacher’s performance is hard to measure, but so is a lot of other jobs. For example, in my job if we lose profits there are dozens of variables that can play a factor, many of which I have no control over. My boss doesn’t want to hear excuses when our profits fall. He wants it taken care of. Teachers should be accountable for the product they deliver.

    I worry that their somewhat unique role means teachers think they should get a pass on basic job success.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “One more time I’m going to beat the trade-school drum.”

    This is a great drum upon which to beat.

    20% of students are in the bottom quintile and I am pretty sure that a university prep education will not serve them (or anybody, really) to anywhere *NEAR* the degree that a decent trade education would.

    There are (at least) two dynamics opposing this, though. The first is the idea that saying that these kids ought to learn a trade is somehow equivalent to saying that they don’t deserve or aren’t worthy of going to college. It’s not that at all. The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum, etc.

    The second (and this one is really pernicious) is that tools and equipment cost money to buy, store, and maintain. 25 copies of Watership Down cost a hell of a lot less… and if you think that not every student would benefit from an analysis of Watership Down, what are you? Some sort of jerk that thinks that not every student deserves a university prep education???

    Good essay discussing a tough problem.Report

  3. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird:

    The second (and this one is really pernicious) is that tools and equipment cost money to buy, store, and maintain. 25 copies of Watership Down cost a hell of a lot less… and if you think that not every student would benefit from an analysis of Watership Down, what are you? Some sort of jerk that thinks that not every student deserves a university prep education???

    Watership Down is a great book. The cartoon scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I hadn’t honestly considered the equipment costs. There must be some creative solution around that, of course, but it’s a great point….

    Mike – nobody’s arguing that. It’s the difference between two teachers at the same school that raises concerns. If it’s much easier to evaluate math over art, where does that leave principals (etc) making the pay decisions?Report

  4. Avatar MM
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    says:

    In my area (central MA), in more rural parts, trade schools are regional. Not sure how they’re funded, but they serve students from several surrounding towns. I think the town from which the student comes from pays a fee for that student to attend the trade school.Report

  5. E.D. – My company employees thousands of people in hundreds of different roles. Somehow we calculate how to give merit raises to all of them yearly. There are what, maybe a dozen different possible sujects a highschool teacher could teach. We can’t come up with 12 different assesment tools?Report

  6. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    Yes, but it’s 12 different assessment tools for literally thousands of separate districts.Report

  7. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    I am generally pro-union but some unions deserve criticism. The problem, as has happens in these discussions, is that unions or teacher merit pay/ assessment becomes the entire discussion of how to improve schools. Which ends up with ideological arguments instead of looking as all the issues schools/ teachers face and how to correct them.Report

  8. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    Oh and i should have added that i have never seen evidence that bad teachers are the root cause of the education problmes we have.Report

  9. Avatar Sonny Bunch
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    says:

    “It does bring up some questions – like, what about teachers whose performance is impossible (or very hard) to measure via tests? It’s one thing to measure math in this matter – and so pretty easy, all things told, to pay a math teacher for exemplary math test scores.”

    Agreed! So some form of standardized test — be it national, or, even better, state-by-state — would be a great way of testing the effectiveness of various teachers, right? That’s all I was saying in that last back and forth. I’m terribly fond of public schools (I’ve attended nothing but state-supported institutions) and I’d love to see the quality of teachers staffing them measured and, eventually, improved. Raw scores might not be the best way of measuring teacher success, but there are certain metrics — student improvement/regression year-by-year, say — that are easily measured and important indicators of teacher success.Report

  10. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Right, Sonny – but in certain subjects this becomes far more difficult. And thus it will be much easier for those teachers to adopt this incentivized pay-scale and so forth than for art or theatre teachers and so forth. That’s a problem that needs to be figured out. And balance must be maintained so that the focus is not solely on the tests even in those subjects. So it’s tricky….Report

  11. Avatar Sonny Bunch
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m sure we could come up with something…I’m thinking of those ads you’ll see occasionally for an “art institute” in which they send a brochure and tell you to draw the cartoons/still lifes you see on said brochure and judge your fitness for art school.
    /tongue in cheek
    No, I see your point. But I do think the government has an interest in focusing on competency in core curriculum (reading/writing/math/history/government) than on some of the enlightening but decidedly peripheral courses (PE/art/music).Report

  12. E.D. – Yes – there are lots of distrcits. That’s where a national curriculum would be a very good thing.Report

  13. Avatar Cascadian
    Ignored
    says:

    “That’s where a national curriculum would be a very good thing.”
    Wow, I’m surprised by the national scope. Why would national standards be better than state or local?Report

  14. I don’t think they are better per se but I think from a logisitical perspective they make a lot more sense. As someone who helped write teaching programs for several historic sites and museums, I can tell you that under the current standards you really can’t appeal much to school systems outside of your immediate area because it’s too difficult to keep up with everyone’s curriculum. With a national curriculum a museum in Nebraska could host online tours for kids in Deleware and know they were meeting specific components of their curriculum. A shared curriculum would make inter-state collaborations between teachers and classrooms much easier. With the level of communication and technology we have in this country it’s actually kind of ridiculous not to go this route and take advantage of the possibilities.

    There’s also the possibility of a blessed side-effect where ID is killed for good.Report

  15. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “There’s also the possibility of a blessed side-effect where ID is killed for good.”

    If we are having a problem of “kids graduating who don’t know how to read”, isn’t worrying about ID sort of worrying about something way, way secondary?

    It might even be worth asking “Do kids who are taught ID have similar illiteracy rates with kids taught sticker-free Darwinian Evolution?”

    If the answer is “no”, might there be even more interesting follow-up questions to ask?Report

  16. Avatar Cascadian
    Ignored
    says:

    Mike:

    No thanks. With a shared curriculum already spelled out, any interesting collaboration is lost. I’ll take competition over an administrative group project.

    No child left behind is bad enough. It’s just as likely that I.D. would get into the national curriculum. At the very least you’d have to compromise between the meritocratic areas and the anti-intellectual. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.Report

  17. With a district level curriculum you pretty much ensure kids are rarely exposed to anything outside of that district and that includes cultural institutions as well as kids in other places. It creates a very myoptic view of the world.Report

  18. Avatar Cascadian
    Ignored
    says:

    “With a district level curriculum you pretty much ensure kids are rarely exposed to anything outside of that district and that includes cultural institutions as well as kids in other places.”
    Sorry to get lost so early. How does local decision on curriculum isolate oneself (without localvorism)? It would seem just as likely that we would get a USdayToday mish mash that would eliminate plenty of cultural institutions (if what you’re meaning is museums and not churches and the like). Wouldn’t an open market support more not fewer institutions?

    Would having a globally agreed upon curriculum broaden our views? Would it be the best way to educate our young?Report

  19. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    I get the feeling that what is wanted is not a globally agreed upon curriculum.

    What is wanted is a global curriculum.

    This curriculum will, of course, be picked by the right people. This time.Report

  20. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    It’s also important to treat them like professionals; to properly accredit them (but also to make that process easier for professionals in other fields)

    So it should be hard for teachers but easy for non-teachers?Report

  21. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    Here’s the thing, Michael. It’s one thing if you are getting a bachelor’s degree and want to become a teacher. It’s another thing if you’re a thirty-five year old – say, businessman or lawyer – and you want to teach. There is a lot to be said for fast-track programs for professionals who are at very different places in their lives typically than college kids. That’s all.Report

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