Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Same Old-Same Old

In a post aptly titled "Those Who Can't Score Teach," Reason's Chief Nick Gillespie, takes on the usual arguments to improve teacher quality.

Recommended fixes for the problems include paying teachers more, giving principals the right to hire and fire teachers, and making licensing requirements tougher.

Which is to say the same-old same-old. It's bad the poor kids get stuck with the least-experienced teachers (though it's not clear that more experience necessarily translates into more learning; it could also simply mean more teacher burnout). It's also not clear to me that losing 20 percent of new teachers after three years is a higher attrition rate than you would find in most occupations. Similarly, it's not clear that just giving more pay to people in the system will improve performance.

But the real problem with these sorts of recommendations are twofold. First off, if you want to lure smarter people into teaching (which presumes that they will be more effective), you shouldn't raise the pay of all teachers. What you need to do is make it clear that good and excellent teachers will be rewarded commensurate with their success. The current system is not set up that way and likely never will be. Second, making licensing requirements tougher will almost inevitably mean taking even more of the idiotic education courses that every teacher I know complains about. That, and other bureaucratic hoops that will make just about anyone contemplating a switch into teaching think twice. Instead, why not open the schools to people with proven knowledge bases in subjects (as determined by having a college degree in the area or similar work/life experience) and give them on-the-job training regarding the specifically pedagogical elements of the job?

Most important, though, the commission's reforms leave out parents, who are ultimately the arbiter of their children's education; they are the customers who need to be satisifed. Empower parents to pick and choose schools by giving them the freedom to go wherever they want and the "school crisis" will disappear as educational institutions change and evolve--and go out of business--trying to meet those needs. It won't even take a majority of parents moving their kids (and their money) around--as the charter school experience has shown, even a small percentage would be enough to jump start meaningful reform.

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