Better teachers make better schools

Teachers are the key. To be more precise, highly effective teachers are the key. Putting high quality educators in every classroom would increase student performance more than any other reform movements. This isn't just my opinion, it's also the opinion of Professor Edward L. Glaeser according to his op-ed in the Boston Globe.

Dr. Glaeser proposes that step one to getting high quality teachers into the classroom is getting highly capable people into teaching. He suggests increasing teacher compensation as well as making the certification process less of a bureaucratic nightmare. I think both ideas are promising. I've certainly had to (and continue to) deal with the mess of getting certification and keeping it current.

Step two involves keeping these high quality teachers in the classroom. Teacher burn-out is a serious problem, especially among highly motivated, highly effective teachers who spend countless hours planning and prepping for those pivotal few minutes actually spent in contact with their students. People who are highly motivated and very capable also tend to have no problem adapting to careers outside of education.

Step two is where I'd really like to agree with Dr. Glaeser, but perhaps I'm just too cynical to really think things would work out as well as he hopes. Glaeser says, "Perhaps teachers unions could start endorsing the use of test scores to evaluate their members and determine tenure."  Look, I totally agree the current seniority based pay scale is not helping our education system. There's simply no incentive to work hard. I get a raise next year whether I bust my behind or just slide through the year. However, tieing test scores to salary gives me the willies.

Why basing teacher pay off student test scores scares me

  1. Test validity. Most state sanctioned standardized tests have a better correlation with socio-economic status than a students ability to think critically, scientifically, or those other skills that actually matter. If a standardized test could be shown to reliably measure the ability to think scientifically, mathematically, critically, etc. then I'd be much closer to liking this idea.
  2. The measurement of instruction affects instruction. Once you pick an instrument, that instrument determines what and how instruction will occur. If my salary is tied to successful test taking, I'm much more likely to focus on test taking skills or knowledge that students need for that one test. Gone is the focus on life-long learning.
  3. Local policies. What happens if my students don't do so hot on the test one year? Or a couple years? Who determines that policy, and how fluid is it? Perhaps it's just my cynicism, but I can envision too many ways this type of system could be used to keep the "good ol' boys" employed while pushing out innovation.

Things my salary should be based on

  • Classroom observation. Watch me at work. If you're paying me to interact directly with students, my salary better be based upon you watching me do that.
  • Student improvement in the areas of critical thinking, literacy, numeracy, and scientific thinking. I realize the standards say students need to know the difference between an element and a compound, but isn't it more important that my students know how interact with scientific information? We need to be teaching students more than facts.
  • My role as a professional educator. Am I a leader in the school? Can I be counted on to work for what's best for the school community?
  • Personal improvement. Am I reflective about my practice? Can I effectively target when things have gone poorly and change things to improve my weaknesses?

I'm unaware of any instrument that measures all the variables above. I'm not sure if that instrument existed if that would be the solution to our educational woes.

What things should your salary be based upon? Discuss.