Monday, June 7, 2010

Teacher bashing

Yglesias asks why advocates of performance pay for teachers are accused of teacher bashing since presumably as many teachers would benefit as would be hurt. I don't think this is any great mystery. The basic premise of such plans is that many schools are currently "failing" and that this is mainly the fault of the teachers at those schools. This seems like teacher bashing to me and unjustified at that since the premise is false.

Yglesias does identify a way in which teachers have brought this upon themselves. Teacher unions like to argue for higher wages on the basis that teachers are very important. This naturally suggests that perhaps greater efforts to identify and remove bad teachers are justified.

But while turning union propaganda against teachers in this way may have its attractions the fact remains that the evidence is that within the range of teacher quality currently found in US schools teachers aren't very important to outcomes. And, contrary to Yglesias, measuring individual teacher quality is very difficult as random variation will swamp any plausible differences in quality.

So the likely effect of any merit pay system is greater anxiety and uncertainly for teachers as some are randomly labeled bad with little if any benefit to students. It is no wonder teachers are largely opposed.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. If there were a way to truly assess teacher quality fairly, it would b e a good thing, but unfortunately teachers must set "goals" for improvement often unrelated to the actual capabilities of their students. For years in Colorado, teachers have been required to set goals for themeselves and their students. They write as low a goal as they think they can get away with, because they know that their students don't do well on tests no matter how much the teacher tries to make a difference. The danger then becomes if the goals aren't met, the teacher won't get a bonus that is built into the system. Also if a principal doesn't get along with a teacher, the principal may raise the bar unjustly so that the teacher won't make his/her goals. When that happens the principal can say that she needs to remove that teacher from her school. In actuality the teacher merely moves to another school where the cycle may repeat itself. If a goal setting formula could adjust for low income, minority populations, and special education students as variables, then perhaps goal setting might be more feasible. The people who promote these goals usually don't understand how to identify when real real progess takes place.