Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Another Good Solution for Education

I have a good edu-rant coming up regarding something that I read during Christmas week, but first, let's start the new year off with a rave.

Teacher Susan Creighton of Flower Mound High School has a great op-ed piece in today's DMN in which she offers another great idea to solve some of the problems plaguing public education at the moment. At first, the answer seems obvious--money. But she goes way beyond that:
Have you caught any of those investment house TV ads that show well-heeled 50-somethings sitting in a classroom musing how they're glad they were able to retire early so they could try their hand at teaching? The implication is that only with a sizable portfolio would they be able to indulge in their dream of teaching, because, of course, they would never be able to live on a teacher's salary. Sadly, they're right. I was halfway through writing an essay about leadership in America, unabashedly whining about how little teachers are paid in comparison to sports leaders or CEOs when the ugly little truth about education revealed itself to me: It's our fault because somewhere along the line, we've settled for security over accountability.

In every competitive venue in this country, those who achieve are rewarded with better pay and the security that comes with knowing their skills will always be marketable. Why do teachers choose to play by different rules? Why do we default to using unions, the guardians of security over higher pay and the protectors of the least common denominator, instead of establishing a hierarchy that will reward excellence?

When Texas is already using testing as a means to evaluate students as well as schools, why can't results and incentives be established that will introduce into the equation that most effective of all motivators – competition?
That's a great question, and there has to be a better answer than "the unions won't like it." As I've said before, not only do I not care about unions, but I don't think that professions such as education should be unionized in the first place.

But I digress. After refuting some of the usual excuses as to why her idea wouldn't work, Creighton comes to what I consider to be the meat of the column:
My salary is determined simply by how many years I've taught in Texas, regardless of how well I've done my job. Other than just keeping my job, there is absolutely no incentive (other than personal pride) for me to improve my teaching.

This has to change.

Teaching can no longer be considered merely an entry-level position into education. To keep the skilled educators in the classroom, we need to create career paths for teachers that aren't administrative. Some states have established the position of Master Teacher, which puts their best teachers on pay scales similar to administrators' or counselors' and lets them stay in the classroom. Master Teachers should be the mentors and evaluators for others in their department, especially the new and challenged teachers.
Hallelujah. While I'd still like to go even farther than that by requiring that even the administrators remain teachers, Creighton's idea might well serve as a good compromise if need be. I really like the idea that there should be non-administrative chances for promotion for teachers, because I've always thought it was insane that the only way to truly "move up" in the teaching profession was by not being a teacher anymore.

Of course, Creighton's ideas would still meet with resistance from the ivory-tower crowd, as well as the mediocre teachers who benefit from the seniority-based system that we have now:
I'm aware that much of what I've written is considered heresy in the world of education. And I have the privilege of teaching at a high-achieving school where the quality of the teachers is generally very high. But the constancy of low pay for the most vital element in the student's success quotient – the teacher – is universal.

In order for teaching to become a profession of prestige and respect in our society, we teachers need to be held accountable for the effectiveness of our teaching, in return for which we need to be rewarded with a respectable living wage commensurate with our performance.
I couldn't agree more. Hopefully, many more like-minded teachers will rise up over time and embrace these ideas so that someday, real change will come about. It can't happen too soon.

1 comment:

Gary P said...

As you may know, I recently started back to grad school to earn the credentials to teach math at the university level.

It would be a whole lot easier and quicker (not to mention, far cheaper!) to get to the point where I could teach math at the high school level.

The pay though really is to the point where I can't afford that level of pay cut. According to my mom (who teaches at McNeese State, a regional university in Lake Charles, LA), they start their PhD faculty in math at not a whole lot less than what I make now as a senior engineer with 15+ years experience. The move to a public school would probably be at least a 50% pay cut.

Plus I could NEVER tolerate the pointy-headed ivory-tower administrators and their "Zero Tolerance" policies that you blogged about above. That kind of middle management mentality is a big reason why I'm looking to put the corporate engineering world in my rear-view mirror ASAP!