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December 26, 2007

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bobbyp:
Would this be the same 'market' model that is dusted off and used to justify obscenely high CEO incomes? That one?

No, the model that runs most of this economy. CEO salaries represent a failure of the market system, true (not enough positions to have a truly competitive market plus shareholders that really don't care on know how to fix the situation). Show me a non-union, private sector job that keeps on advancing you no matter what.

I'm not sure I agree that teachers receive too little pay, at least in California and Alaska. Remember that teachers get three months off. Many teachers work to supplement their income, true, but they have a lot of time to work. In California, teachers get the total amount of their contributions plus interest in the first three years of retirement. Not to mention that their health care coverage is around the best available. So when you compare their close to $50k average salary (really closer to $67k for year round) and benefits package, it is competitive.

Yes, beginning teachers salaries do not match the cost of living on a single income with a family of four (previous cite). Many private sector jobs also do not. However, if viewed on an annual scale, it looks like the beginning salaries exceed the cost of living.

I don't think arguing that salaries are too low overall really has anything to do with whether we should reward merit. Fine, provide sufficient salaries but institute a merit system and reward really good teachers.

I am not sure why there is so much resistance to a merit system. In my experience, there are teachers and then there are TEACHERS. A significant portion spend extra time, continue their education, create fresh lesson plans and really care about kids. A significant portion do not. Their lesson plans were done in the first three years of teaching and were only redone when mandated. Come to think of it, maybe that was one of the greatest benefits of the new state standards! (don't get me going on that one). My point is, why should the teachers and TEACHERS be paid the same?

bc: Remember that teachers get three months off.

...which most of them spend preparing for their next year of teaching.

Many teachers work to supplement their income, true, but they have a lot of time to work.

Well, all of us do, in a sense: we start at 9, finish at 5, we need at least 6 hours of the remaining 16 to sleep, but we could spend the remaining 10 hours at work.

Of course, this would mean teachers would have virtually no prep time left in the working day to plan their lessons, their teaching work would suffer.

Fine, provide sufficient salaries but institute a merit system and reward really good teachers.

For that to work, you'd need to figure out how to assess really good teachers. I can imagine that you could, but it would be fairly complex: you'd want to get feedback from the classes, from the parents, from the other teachers, from the superintendent, from the school's other staff. You'd look at the end results, but you'd also want to assess progress - where each student started from, and how capable the students were of progressing. All of that, over five to ten years, and you'd build up a very clear picture of who are good teachers and who are mediocre and who are outright bad. And that would be very useful, not least if it were done in partnership with teacher unions and with the intent of ensuring that teachers who don't care about their performance get weeded out, but those who want to improve get given the training opportunities and the help to do so.

But I get the feeling from similiar schemes in the UK that what's really wanted is some instafix quick method based on how many students got higher marks in a standardized test this year than last year.

Yes, beginning teachers salaries do not match the cost of living on a single income with a family of four (previous cite). Many private sector jobs also do not.

But that's not really the issue. A average teacher's salary evidently does not match the cost of living on a single income with a family of four.

Further, it's not just a question of whether "private sector jobs" match up to teaching jobs. It's a question of whether Americans want to attract the best and the brightest graduates to teach their children. If education offers similar salaries and earning opportunities to what a graduate can get in other careers, it will be easier to attract the best people to it.

bc: I am not sure why there is so much resistance to a merit system.

I would guess, for the same reason most people will resist a "merit system" at work when they feel that what is being measured is irrelevant to how good they are at their job or how hard they work at it, or that it's being measured as an excuse to cut salaries. See Taylor, Scientific Management. And the difficulties of setting up a realistic merit system for teachers that won't penalize teachers who decide to work with hard-to-teach kids, or who have just one uneducable monster in their class that they work hard just to keep in line so that the other kids can learn, are considerable.

PS: You write: A significant portion spend extra time, continue their education, create fresh lesson plans and really care about kids. following your assertion that I'm not sure I agree that teachers receive too little pay, at least in California and Alaska. Remember that teachers get three months off. Many teachers work to supplement their income, true, but they have a lot of time to work.

You don't seem to be clear in your mind whether teachers ought to be able to "spend extra time, continue their education, create fresh lesson plans" or whether they ought to be working a second job to make ends meet in all those hours in the day when they're not actually teaching.

I'm saving a lot of this up for a longish post at TiO, but I would point out 2 things. First, that the requirements for a teaching degree, because of state legislatures wanting to appear concerned about the state of education (but not coupling that with an increase in the teacher pay), make it generally a 5 year+ degree, which, when coupled with the poor salaries, generally has students at more expensive institutions eschew a career in teaching. This creates a vicious circle where people interested in teaching end up going to cheaper, less prestigious institutions, making teaching a lesser profession.

And one of the reasons why there is such opposition to merit pay is because it is very hard, as Jes points out, to determine what merit is. For example, would a teacher who deals with autistic children be more or less likely to get a merit increase that a teacher who is teaching an IP calculus course?

Also, the notion that teachers can supplement their income also says something to people who are going to become teachers, and the message is that this is not a job that requires your full thought and effort, but something that you do part of the time and the rest of the time, you do something that pays better. This is an outgrowth of the local nature of US education, as it has always been a profession that was primarily for women, so has often not been treated as a primary wage earner, whereas in other countries, it is much more common to imagine that teaching is job for a primary wage earner.

Jes:

First of all, my comment on time to do extra work refers to the summer. The good teachers probably do spend part of their summer preparing for the next year. Most do not. Even the good teachers I had in high school would regale us with the "what they did with their summer" and it was not typically preparing. Most had good lesson plans and spent time freshening them on the fly.

As to my alleged lack of clarity, I will clarify: Teachers shouldn't have to work a second job during the school year. I just don't like arguments that ignore the fact that they have several months free and available to supplement their incomes. When the "livable wage" argument comes up, it almost always ignores the fact that they work 3/4 of a year. The pay is going to be commensurate. And those same arguments ignore the great benefits I have to pay for out of pocket, like health care (I spend at least $10k a year on my family of seven). Or the retirement bonus as I stated above.

No, I'm not adverse to attracting talent as you say with larger salaries. I AM against raising salaries across the board with no merit system in place.

And as to the difficulty of a setting up a merit system, I respectfully disagree. I knew who the good teachers were within days (if not minutes) of being in their class. I'm sure you could take any decent principal and he or she could give you a ranking within minutes. Yes, parent feedback, peer review and student feedback would be important. And it would be fairly easy I think to correlate for difficult students. Far easier, say, than AP Math.

bc: I just don't like arguments that ignore the fact that they have several months free and available to supplement their incomes.

Well, according to this, teachers aren't paid for the 2 months they don't work - they get a long vacation, but it's an unpaid long vacation. (This surprised me, but I find it confirmed here. That would seem to take care of your objection that the teachers have too much free time for the salary they get.

When the "livable wage" argument comes up, it almost always ignores the fact that they work 3/4 of a year. The pay is going to be commensurate.

So do you feel that schoolchildren should go to class for a normal working year, no long break in summertime? The long summer vacation was originally instituted to let students help with the harvest: as students don't help with the harvest, do you think they should study year-round? Do you feel that teachers should have time to be able to improve themselves - go to courses, take classes, go on trips?

I might also add that unlike in almost any other profession, teachers cannot simply take a day's or a week's vacation whenever it suits them: a teacher who calls the school to let them know there's been a burst pipe and they're staying home to let the plumber in, is going to cause havoc and disruption in the school, because someone has to be available, at minimum, to supervise the students in their class: ideally, to give them the classes.

Liberal Japonicus also has a point: it's a bad idea to tell teachers, explicitly or implicitly, that teaching is just something they do that they shouldn't expect to be able to earn a living from. If teaching is a career, teachers should be able to earn a living wage from doing it, and be able to support a family after a while.

bc: And as to the difficulty of a setting up a merit system, I respectfully disagree. I knew who the good teachers were within days (if not minutes) of being in their class.

Did you? Then you were probably wrong. Anyone who claims to be able to know how good someone is at their job within minutes usually is. (FWIW, I had a couple of teachers when I was at school that at the time, I thought were bad teachers: it was years before I recognized their good qualities.)

bc: And it would be fairly easy I think to correlate for difficult students. Far easier, say, than AP Math.

Really? You think it would be "fairly easy" to figure out exactly how difficult a student was, and how well a teacher coped that student, and how badly this affected the rest of the class, and what the long-term effects were, not only for the difficult student but for the rest of the class? What formula were you planning to use?

"I knew who the good teachers were within days (if not minutes) of being in their class. I'm sure you could take any decent principal and he or she could give you a ranking within minutes."

The key is that the system has to be both objective, so as not to simply make salaries dependent upon favoritism -- which is what the problem has always been -- and yet not increase bureaucratic time-wasting and paperwork.

Thus the problem.

On the one hand, folks decry the lack of "accountability." OCSteve says, not unreasonably, "I’m for increasing funding as long as it comes with requirements for accountability."

Then we notice that a huge problem in many education systems seems to be huge bureaucracies with many employees not focused on teaching or helping students, but rather on enforcing "standards," and practices, and testing, and supporting that bureaucracy, and that school systems end up teaching for a test.

Anyone wonder how that happens?

Perhaps someone might explain how to design a system without calling for contradictory goals.

Because you can focus your money and efforts on teaching and helping kids and families and neighborhoods.

Or you can focus your money and efforts on testing the teachers and testing the kids, and evaluating their efforts, and making them "accountable."

But every bit focussed on one goal damages your ability to get to the other goal. Every bit of money or effort put into the system to achieve one goal is money and effort taken away from the other goal.

Or so it seems up to now, in so many school systems.

"I might also add that unlike in almost any other profession, teachers cannot simply take a day's or a week's vacation whenever it suits them"

I want to live in your world.

Although maybe you're making a point about "professions," and how people who have them, unlike mere jobs or careers, deserve different treatment. Probably not, but otherwise I'm a tad confused. Few people I know can take "a day's or a week's vacation whenever it suits them."

I'm unaware of teachers having dreadful problems taking days off for emergencies or illness, by the way. My parents did it all the time, as did all their colleages who worked for the NYC Board of Ed, as did all my teachers.

Aside from the contract guaranteeing time-off rights, a substitute teacher comes in; this is firmly institutionalized.

It's a small point, so no big deal, but from either end, this seems to make little sense: "I might also add that unlike in almost any other profession, teachers cannot simply take a day's or a week's vacation whenever it suits them."

Sure, it inconveniences kids and disrupts classrooms, but how that significantly differs from a surgeon needing to miss an operation, or a plumber familiar with a job not showing up to continue a plumbing job they're in the middle of, or any other mid-job continuity interuption, I don't know.

But as I said, it's a small point.

"bc: And as to the difficulty of a setting up a merit system, I respectfully disagree. I knew who the good teachers were within days (if not minutes) of being in their class."

Does that differ from teachers being able to evaluate their students within days (if not minutes)?

If not, why?

If so, why do we need tests? Can't teachers just write an evaluation of each student for their report cards from observing the students in class?

It may be easy to tell who the good teachers are, but it is not at all easy to prove it or to provide documentation.

I've linked this here. I still think that Publius tends to be too quick to give people like Bartlett a pass on the racist nature of what they're doing. As I write at Lean Left, he's actively working to allow people to ignore past institutionalized racism, who's responsible, and the lingering effects of it. This might not rise to the level of cross burning, but it's still active racism in my book.

Brett:
No, not on the basis of being disadvantaged by a history of racism, on the basis of race itself

Don't suppose you have a viable way to make that distinction in policy, do you Brett?

If the overlap between those "disadvantaged by a history of racism" and those who happen to be a particular race is on the order of the high 90's, percentage-wise, as I suspect it is, then I don't think it's unreasonable to treat this as a distinction without a difference.

Plus, you ignore the invisible privileges of being white that the white immigrant gets to enjoy but the nonwhite immigrant does not.

"those who happen to be a particular race"

How do you define that?

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