Dec 22, 2006

speaking of things that don't add up

Elizabeth Hovde's well-meaning editorial in The Columbian showcases some of the misunderstandings that plague efforts to improve education. A few clarifications and corrections are in order. First, though, the good part:
Entry pay for teachers is fine. Their pay beats a lot of industries' entry-level wages. But the pay scale tops out way too early and not high enough. Experienced, effective teachers should be rewarded.
Amen to that. Teachers' highest salary possibilities should equal administrators' entry points, at least.
Teachers must pay hundreds of dollars to the union each year. Mandatory union dues or fees should be banned.
Remember those teacher salaries? They're bargained for by the union. Non-union teachers could be paid less, if such a thing were possible for districts.
There are good and bad teachers, just as there are good and bad lawyers, retail clerks and accountants. The process for granting a raise should more closely resemble the process found in the private sector.

Administrators and peers would evaluate teachers based on their abilities and be paid accordingly. Right now, there is no incentive to be innovative or even qualified in one's teaching job.
First, I agree that automatic pay raises and no incentive for improvement are a dangerous mix. But in the absence of objective criteria, "performance" becomes an excuse for kiss-assery. (Later on, Hovde warns against linking salaries to test scores or grades, for good reason--but suggests no alternative measurement.)

Also, Hovde is wrong in claiming there is no incentive for qualification. Teacher pay is tied to coursework in several ways: "staff development" pay, different pay scales for teachers with advanced degrees, and bonuses for National Board Certification. I'm seeking the latter next year, because I want to improve my skills--and the annual bonus helps defray the cost of the assessment.

There isn't an easy way to reform the educational pay structure in a way that promotes excellence, instead of rewarding mediocrity. My plan: boost salaries significantly, attracting a larger pool of candidates. Simultaneously, require certification as rigorous as the National Board program, winnowing out the chaff. If you want quality, you have to pay for it.

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