Last week, Teach Plus released its long-awaited national survey of teachers’ opinions on various aspects of education reform. The report focuses on the growing differences in opinion between teachers with fewer than 10 years of experience–“The New Majority”–and teaching veterans. Perhaps the most striking of these differences concerns the use of student growth in evaluating teachers. From the report:
Whereas the notion of standards of effectiveness finds broad support among all teachers, measuring teacher effectiveness sees far less support among veteran teachers. New Majority teachers are far more likely
to agree that growth in student learning should be included as part of a teacher’s evaluation. When asked about the use of student growth measures in their evaluations, 71 percent of New Majority teachers
agree that student gains should be included in teacher evaluations as compared to 41 percent of veteran teachers.
In other words, younger teachers are more than twice as likely to say that student learning should be used as part of their evaluation. As I’ve written previously, such a system is both common sense and elevates the profession; only inertia and reliance on anachronism have prevented widespread implementation.
But that may soon change. Indeed, the results of the survey show that the days of that status quo in education may be numbered. Since we know that a great teacher is the ultimate difference maker for kids, it is only logical that our system takes student growth into account. Younger teachers understand this. They acknowledge that a contract that rewards longevity and credentials instead of effectiveness, while predictable and stable for employees, is not best for kids. The “New Majority” is ready to redefine and professionalize the teaching profession as respected, accountable deliverers of education. I just hope that veterans join the fight sooner rather than later.
Today’s NYT features an editorial endorsing merit pay for teachers. Entitled “Carrots and Sticks for School Systems,” the piece references the recent report “Irreplaceables” by TNTP as evidence that schools should do more to retain top teachers and weed out ineffective ones. (My take on the report.) The logic is simple: top teachers are leaving the profession in droves, and so schools should offer higher earning potential to teachers based on effectiveness, not seniority and credentials.
That argument, despite its simple logic, is anathema to supporters of the status quo in education. As Diane Ravitch–engaging in typical demagoguery–puts it, “carrots and sticks are for donkeys, not professionals.” Though I’m sure the line got plenty of laughs and cheers at the AFT convention, that doesn’t make it true. Rewarding and punishing employees based on job performance is absolutely professional, and avoiding such a system only isolates teachers at the expense of our reputation.
What always gets me is how “merit pay” is treated as a novel idea, even though it is just a fancy name for a pillar of free market labor economics: You do your job well, you receive a reward; your performance is unsatisfactory, you receive a consequence. The evidence that it “works” is centuries of economic growth, entrepreneurship, and improving quality of life in this country. Why would teaching be different? If these “carrots and sticks” weren’t effective, we’d see other “professional” industries switching to a strict experience-based pay scale. But, of course, we don’t.
The defensive reaction of teachers to merit pay proposals does further damage to our reputation. Instead of treating merit pay as an attack on teachers that aren’t working hard, we should consider it a simple way to recognize and reward excellence. We teachers know how difficult teaching is; why would we want to deny rewards to those who do it exceptionally well? If we want to be treated like other professionals, we should trade our petty stubbornness for logic and acknowledge that what works in other industries is worth a try for us.
On Monday TNTP released its long-awaited report on the crisis of urban teacher retention. The report explains that the most effective teachers in a given district–termed “The Irreplaceables”– produce 5-6 more months of student learning than poor teachers. Yet those top teachers leave their schools at an alarmingly high rate. Therefore, the report argues, schools should alter their policies to ensure that those teachers are retained.
This is far from surprising. Indeed, all students, parents, and school employees know that some teachers are better than others. The problem is that teacher compensation–presently based on seniority and credentials–implies a false reality where all teachers are equally effective. It is no wonder that a profession which fails to reward its top performers has trouble retaining them.
The fact that some teachers are better than others is not a knock on the teaching profession. Indeed, differences in employee quality exist in all industries. But teachers are too important to society to justify the present complacency. Every kid deserves a great teacher and the incredible achievement that can result, and the failure to retain great teachers is making that much more difficult. Tying teacher compensation to effectiveness would improve retention, shine a light on our best, and toss away the false reality of that teachers are nothing more than interchangeable parts in a machine. Do teachers deserve more respect? Absolutely. And a great way to make that happen–as well as help kids–is to quit hiding behind oppressive and illogical contracts and support a system for compensation driven by common sense instead of convenience.
In yesterday’s Kansas City Star, Joe Robertson outlines various concerns about teacher evaluation proposals that include student performance as a factor. The most widespread of these, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that these “value-added” models include too many variables outside of the teacher’s control to be fair. And this is a problem: in the words of KC teachers’ union president Andrea Flinders, this type of system “will do nothing to attract teachers and it will drive good people away.”
I’m not going to comment on the specifics of this proposal; I’m far from an expert on the underlying calculations. But this case exemplifies the absurd overthinking which mars discussions of teacher evaluations.
The reality is that no method of evaluating employees in any industry is perfectly fair or foolproof. Yet only in education is the concern about “driving away” potential employees so prevalent. A person is hired for a job. They are given various tasks and assignments to complete and asked to meet various expectations of comportment and professionalism in the office. If they meet those expectations, they will remain employed; if they don’t, they will get fired.
Of course, it is often not that simple. Evaluating work performance can be complicated, especially in fields like sales where there are plenty of variables outside of the employee’s control. There can be incompetent supervisors that play favorites or are otherwise arbitrary in their hiring and firing decisions. Yet the system goes on. There is an understanding that, for companies to be successful, they want the best people working there. Supervisors that don’t follow that principle rarely remain supervisors for very long.
Yet that doesn’t seem to be sufficient for teachers. The rhetoric on teacher evaluation rests on the assumption that teachers have rights to their jobs, and that right can only be taken away when they have been objectively proven to be ineffective. As I’ve written previously, if we demand different treatment than other professionals in the workforce, we shouldn’t be surprised by a negative reputation and lack of respect. Will a system of performance evaluation lead to some questionable firing decisions? Sure. But if the system is reasonably and logically designed, in the aggregate it should improve the quality of employees overall. And if that is good enough for other professionals, it should be good enough for us.