The “conventional wisdom” problem I outlined in the last post is not the problem in my view. Children are not like cars or hamburgers. Some aspects of our public life, like health care and education, are too critical to our well being to allow for losing schools.
Drum roll. . . I will now concede a few points often communicated by conservative critics of public schools. Teacher unions will generate more good will if they work together with school boards, districts, and administrators to not only make sure all teachers are given due process when evaluated and conceivably terminated, but also to develop more rigorous criteria for continuing employment so that more (1% would be a large increase in some districts) consistently ineffective teachers are let go. Emphasizing due process almost exclusively has proven counter-productive.
Also, thanks to M.A. for turning me on to Atul Gawande, surgeon/genius health-care writer for the New Yorker. In the December 14th issue, in an article titled “Testing, Testing” he makes a very convincing argument that the best way forward in health-care, is for bottom-up, grass-root pilot studies of medical care, insurance, and related innovations.
Ed reformers would be well served to follow suit. Of course there’s a lot of innovative magnet, charter, and other public schools-within-schools, the challenge is scaling up what works in one context to another. But I digress. Even though schools are not car dealerships and restaurants, we need to free schools up to innovate and distinguish themselves one from another so that families can comparison shop. Families that consciously choose a school are far more committed to it.
To paraphrase from Deborah Meier, we need to provide families choices among small, distinctive, public schools.
The trend is the opposite, the pendulum has not only swung towards standardization in assessment, curriculum, and teaching methodologies, but it’s gotten stuck.
The record on charter schools is terribly uneven, some are exceptional, many are not. I’m not enough of an expert to know how to tip that balance, but my guess is greater fiscal and curricular accountability.
Back to “the problem”. Recent commenters, “Mom’s Favorite” and Lance (also a fantasy appellation), are both right. We need to find ways to attract especially strong candidates to the profession. What do I mean by “especially strong”? For starters, solid academic background, caring, and interpersonally skilled. And we want people motivated more by improving their communities than by enriching themselves.
Right now beginning teachers in Washington State make $34,237 and the scale tops out at $64,531 so we have a lot of room to increase pay without altering the tremendous altruism that motivates most teachers.
Until recently, I taught one course a year in an International Studies program that tended to attract especially strong students. Bi and trilingual, strong writers, confident discussants, serious international experience, ambitious, socially aware. The exact type of people I need applying to the teacher certification program I coordinate, but for the bulk of them, $34,237 is insufficient. After three years of law school they can triple it (leaving aside the fact that a lot of lawyers don’t like lawyering).
Stay tuned because the next question is whether merit pay (yes, I’ll get back to it) means dividing up the same $34,237-$64,531 pie differently or whether there are ways to increase the size of the pie, and as the cliche goes, have a rising tide lift all boats.