Based on emails and blog posts it seems everyone is gaga over this Nicholas Kristof column today. Me, not so much. I like that he challenged the presidential candidates to say something about teacher quality, that would be refreshing and also in their own best interest. And I liked the Hamilton report he references because it was bold and pointed some useful directions.
But, I found the column too easy. It’s going to take more than bonuses and getting rid of low-performers to really change teaching and consequently education more generally. For instance, while Kristof’s call to abolish certification feels good, what we really need is to end the operating monopoly that colleges of education enjoy over teacher preparation. Some preparation is useful but it can be sequenced much differently than it is today and provided in different settings, for example, gasp, at an actual school. And, while I think we need to get rid of low-performers, science, in this case value-added assessment, isn’t going to do it for us. That takes well trained managers willing to make the tough calls — informed by data, yes, but not replaced by it — and sensible policies about hiring and firing. Finally, I’m all for bonuses and incentives, but we need much more robustly differentiated pay than just bonuses.
So, while these ideas are a great start, the reality is that the entire human capital strategy in education is mismatched to the goals of the system today. Basically, we still approach human capital the way we did when the labor market was a lot different and the performance expectations much lower. In fairness, that’s a more complicated question than you can bite off in a column, but it is the scale of the challenge we face today.