More Human Capital

If you only read one article on education policy today, you can’t do much better than this one from Slate.

11 Replies to “More Human Capital”

  1. Build on Fisman’s best points. We will never be able to perfectly predict who will be an effective teacher so removing ineffective ones is a top priority. Removing incompetent teachers is one of the most cost- effective methods. All of the accountability, the instructional reforms, and the market incentives in the world are unlikely to produce perrformance gains comparable to the removal of the worst teachers AND PRINCIPALS. Getting rid of the very worst teachers, however, should produce amazing gains. Thirdly, make classroom visits and it is easy to determine who are the teachers who definitely do not belong in the classroom.

    Evaluating lesson plans can be effective as a part of professional development and especially in improving new or struggling teachers. We don’t need more paperwork or testing to determine who is unfit. Mostly it just takes “gumption,” and fairness. I doubt that the featured principal would raise scores so much if he was just a tyrant. In this situation where he’s just trying to shove ineffective teachers into other schools, it may make sense to act like a jerk. In the long run though, if he wastes too much of his teachers’ time and his own time on silly paperwork and test results, gains won’t be sustained.

    The real question is how do we negotiate a SYSTEM for removing ineffective teachers. We need to borrow the best in the legal system – its use of evidence – for a streamlined procedure. The best approach is to focus on observable behavior. Then use lesson plans, test scores, and other behaviors to corroborate those observations. If the central office tries to bring in data from some overarching system like NCLB or the NYC assessments, then unions have no choice but to condemn that junk for what it is.

    Removing ineffective teachers is so important that we should all drop our ideological arguments and DISCUSS fair methods that do not threaten the very life of the profession and our unions. How much confidence do you have in NCLB or NYC numbers? 60%? 90%? somewhere in between depending on the subject or the integrity of the local leadership? Those levels of confidence may or may not be appropiate for broad political choices, but not for ending the career of an individual. WE, and in the case we all should be a part of the we, need to pay attention to precedents. Given the politics of today, using test scores to terminate teachers would be like flipping a coin in many cases. How could we attract talent to such a system? Do we fire a good teacher for being ineffective because he chose to teach the toughest kids? Or because he had a terrible principal? Or because the central office bought into another round of silly theories that undercut classroom instruction? I have seen many situations where throwing the teacher in a lake to see if he sinks like a witch would be just as reliable.

    I should shut up now because I don’t know much more about Denver than I read in the paper. Its sad. Given the uncertainty, Obama is smart to back off. We need to keep this in context though. There is no way that pay for performance could reap the benefits, for example, of ending drive-by evaluations. Our top priorities should be focused on the creation of a learning culture. Test scores, market incentives, etc. may or may not be a good idea, but they are second level priorities. In this case, I’m torn. My best judgement would be to stay the course and not jeopardize the Pro Comp deal as its been made. On the other hand, it is much more important for poor children that we create incentives to attract talent to poor schools. I wish I knew enough to make a suggestion.

  2. With four kids in school (grades 3 – 8), I can pretty much predict a good teacher based on the organization of a teachers desk. Messy desk = poor teacher.

    My soon to be 3rd grader improved 2 grade years equivalency in reading. Her teacher’s desk was immaculate. Luckily her teacher is moving to 3rd grade and has my daughter again.

  3. I’m an incoming teacher in DC, and I’m unsure how I feel about what is happening in the education world. The DC chancellor is trying to buy-out the older teachers, and then create a new merit-pay system. Higher pay, but teachers will be judged by test-performance. I’m going to teach at one of the worst schools in the city by choice. I don’t really mind that I will be judged by test scores because their test scores are so low that I’m confidant that the scores will rise. I know the fear is that I’ll be teaching to the test, but I don’t think I have to do this to see success. So, I believe that I’ll be even more motivated to be a great teacher because I know results will be acknowledged and rewarded. However, the union won’t be able to protect me as much as they were able to in the past. Is it naive to think that if I am a really good teacher, then I will keep my job? If it is true that really good teachers will be acknowledged, then why not make teachers more accountable, and then raise the salaries to draw more teacher applicants. I would love to hear responses because I’m afraid that I’m just a naive incoming teacher.

  4. As a former teacher, I am hesitant to allow principals too much leeway in terms of teacher tenure for the following reasons. In my experience as a teacher (and as a student), I saw principals who liked (and rewarded) teachers for reasons having little or nothing to do with teacher effectiveness. The principal may be friends with the teacher, or be glad the teacher is a good football coach. Principals may also punish teachers for publicly disagreeing with them, being an active union member, or disagreeing with a school policy. I think it is important to remember to place checks on principals so that the teacher’s career is not simply hanging in the balance of a principal’s (unverified) opinion.

  5. Johnatan,

    How much do you value your peace of mind and your own conscience?

    I used to load trucks and deliver packages for a well-known company. As workers grew older, more were tempted to give up union protections for an extra ten thousand dollars or so. The result, in the great majority of cases, was severe injury and/or divorce.

    If Michell Rhee does not respect her employees enough to say “good morning” to them, do you think she will value teachers like you once you have agreed to be a pawn in her game?

    Factor in the hourly value of lost sleep, and you’ll question the bargain.

    I don’t want to be a scold because you are obviously sincere, but why do you think that a higher salary will translate into more money and better motivation to serve kids? Serving the kids is the reward. If you find that you need more, including more money, maybe in a couple of years you should consider other careers.

    I’ve tried not to get too moralistic, but I don’t think you should consider taking Rhee’s dirty money. lf they put enough money on the table for all teachers in the nation to have a chance at the $100,000, then the moral calculus changes. But this is just a bait and switch, and it isn’t going to help your students much less students in the rest of America.

  6. John Thompson,

    Thanks for the response. Don’t worry about me doing this for the money: I’m not. I’m here in DC to serve the kids, that’s it. I’m not becoming a teacher to get Rhee’s “dirty money,” but I have wanted to be a teacher, and I want to be a successful teacher in DC. I’m not sure what your argument is. I intend to work extremely hard for the benefit of the kids, and I don’t intend on losing more sleep now that there is some sort of merit pay. I think that I can relate more with attorney DC. I think my greatest fear would be a principal who fires me because s/he dislikes me for some strange reason. But wouldn’t something like test scores protect me from a whimsical principal? I would love this conversation to continue, but let’s not assume things about eachother.

  7. Alright, so I have more thoughts on the subject. I was thinking about this “teaching for the money” thing as opposed to doing it for the kids. Of what I’ve seen, there are already many teachers doing it for the money even without a merit-pay plan. These teachers are mostly veteran teachers who spend their lunch hours complaining about their kids. These veteran teachers are making up to 90,000 a year due to yearly raises. Don’t tell me they are doing it for the love of the kids. Along this same point, I would argue that there will ALWAYS be teachers doing it for the money no matter the salary. Just because the salary is relatively low, this does not mean that teachers are teaching for the kids. And so, if the salary rises, does this mean that there will be MORE people who are teaching for the money, or would there be the same amount? I don’t think the teachers teaching for the right reasons will be scared away. I know I won’t.

  8. If I sounded like I was accusing you, I’m sorry. You wrote, “So, I believe that I’ll be even more motivated to be a great teacher because I know results will be acknowledged and rewarded.” I took that to mean that the combination of tangible and intangible would produce more acknowledgment and reward.

    I think I’m saying the same thing as the D.C. attorney. You never know about a principal. But in Rhee’s world, test scores could push your principal to all sorts of wierd behavior. When my daughter’s principal in NYC dropped some papers and my daughter tried to help her saying, “can I help you?”, the principal fired back, “Yeah, raise math scores.” So NYC just lost a talented Black woman from generational poverty to another inner city school system.

    In my experience, most of the really destructive policies of test prep, teach the test, intimidation, etc occurred when administrators were “running on fumes” exhausted and sleep-deprived to the point where they would do anything to comply. When our great young teachers are driven from our high-poverty school, in my experience, they spend weeks of crying, sleeplessness, and headaches before tossing it in and going to a lower poverty school. And when you are required to follow policies that are counter-productive you will dream about your students faces every night. (My blood pressure goes down when I enter the class, but I still dream nightly about the kids for the first third of the year at least, and when our kids our driven out of school by “accountability” I dream about the individual student/victim not Bush, Spellings, Rhee and the other perpetrators.)

    So, no I didn’t mean to say that “the system” will use money to turn you into a sell-out. It will use your own best qualities to push yourself further than is healthy for you or beneficial for your students. And if people like Rhee win …

    I’ve had plenty of conversations with principals who usually have laudable reasons for working the 80, 90, or more hour a week job. You can’t tell me that they aren’t cutting years off their life. Every spring, one will have a heart attack or a comparable stress-related health emergency. And there is research to back it up. The jobs that produce the most stress are the jobs where you have the least control. I’m not trying to discourage you, but if you want to serve your students well, you’ll have to learn what you can control and what you can’t. Good luck on learning that lesson in a healthy way if you try to do it without a union. Unions aren’t perfect, but they are absolutely necessary to sustain the people who sustain an educational system.

  9. That sounds very reasonable John. I really just want to do what is best for the kids, as absolutely cliche as the statement is. I’ll learn as I go, and I’ll try to keep myself healthy. If I’m not healthy, how am I supposed to help the kids? I’m already thinking about some sort of relaxation retreat in the Thanksgiving area. Anyway, I’m really curious about how this will play out. I’m teaching in DC no matter what happens because no matter how much Rhee changes, the same kids will be in the classroom desperately waiting to be taught.

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