Friday, May 28, 2004

More on Teachers

Go join the good discussion of teachers and education reform at Crooked Timber. I just wanted to add a few more points here.

1. I never said that we shouldn’t pay teachers better, I just think that money alone won’t bring the best people into the profession.

After I got my Masters from the Univ. of Chicago, I took a couple of years off from grad school and tried desperately to get a job teaching. The obstacles were enormous — paperwork, union regulations, redundant education course requirements, the incompetent Board of Education. I eventually got a job, through a connection, teaching special education in the South Bronx. Did it for two years until ambition pushed me back to graduate school.

Sure, teachers should be paid better, but other measures (and perhaps costly measures) have to put in place, as well, to really attract the best.

2. As Harry said, school leadership is also one essential element in improving schools. Some say that this is the decisive factor. Problem is that the education leadership programs suck just as badly as the teaching programs.

3. Also as Harry said, being a good teacher is dependent on one's qualities. Not everybody can teach. It's a talent that some have and some don't. Just because "every child can learn" doesn't mean that every grown up can teach. Those who can't should be encouraged to find another line of work. And those that burn out, should be transitioned into administration or other careers entirely.

4. Gary sent me this great quote from Thomas Sowell:

Who could be against "higher standards"? Only someone who knows what that pious phrase really means. What are called "higher standards" are arbitrary restrictions that keep out potential competitors for the jobs of existing school teachers. Since educators are drawn disproportionately from the bottom half of college students, it is not hard to find better people to put into the nation's classrooms. That is why teachers' unions and the education establishment in general are so determined that only people who have been through education schools and departments be hired. Education credentials are barriers to protect existing teachers' jobs from competition. Such credentials have no demonstrable relationship to the ability to teach. To sell all this to the public, requiring meaningless credentials is equated with "higher standards" for teacher hiring.

Gary also mentioned a book by John Gatto, "Underground History of American Education." I'm unfamiliar with this book, but I thought I would pass along the info.

5. It might be politically stupid to point out that money isn't everything. This sentiment could fuel those who want to end public education entirely. Perhaps. But it's the truth.

What I think would be politically strategic if changes were made in the culture and the operation of teaching in exchange for higher salaries.

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