A Furor but in whose interest?
A blog of mine provoked a bit of a furor two summers ago when I sat in as guest-blogger Rick Hess’ “Straight Up” blog on Education Week: Teacher Pay (Aug 3, 2011)
Huffington Post ran with this title: Michael Bromley, Washington, D.C. Teacher: Teachers Are Overpaid and on the two or three re-postings of my blog, its readers added a few thousand comments, so angry, so offended — and many unthoughtful, although many quite funny. The overall theme was that I couldn’t possibly be a school teacher if I believed that teachers are overpaid. Have fun on it, if you will, but my point was not about the pay itself (on average teacher pay is right in the middle of Americans’ income, $56,000 a year). My point was that teacher pay is unrelated to any meaningful measurement of teacher performance. Union and school district negotiations set teacher salaries, not teacher performance, and certainly students and families.
I’m not saying that student achievement should set teacher pay. My idea is that students themselves should set teacher pay. The difference is significant: critics of student performance-based pay are correct that measurements of student performance are often arbitrary and poor indicators of actual teacher performance. or, worse, student performance tests drive rather than measure learning (see this 2011 Freakonimics post on merit pay and a more recent debate on it in Michigan).
My problem with teacher pay is that it is removed from the actual consumers of education, children and their families. Certainly many jobs out there are not set by consumers of the products they deliver, especially in public service where client inputs are absent. That said, any time client input can indicate provider pay, there will be higher performance — and higher pay, especially as the non-performers are weeded out. The only input education consumers have on teacher pay comes indirectly and is always filtered through administrators, union contracts, local politics, and PTAs. While private schools are more responsive to their clients, even they do not directly link teacher performance to client input. Good teachers are generally rewarded, not specifically, the reverse with problem teachers. My objection is not to high teacher pay, it’s to paying all teachers on the same scale regardless of performance. My solution is twofold: 1) allow the real customers of education to have input on teacher pay; and 2) pay the good ones a lot.
The subject has bounced back into the news recently, first with North Carolina’s decision to halt Master’s degree salary hikes for teachers, another, also from the Wall Street Journal, on the $4 Million Teacher in Korea. What they found in North Carolina is that to reward teacher performance with higher salaries based upon advanced degrees does not necessarily lead to better classroom performance. What’s going on in Korea is that some good teachers are able to command huge salaries as advanced tutors, as that education market demands the extra learning these excellent teachers can provide. The subject is generally mute, however, and continues to function merely as a negotiation tool whenever teacher pay comes up for renewal in local systems. Try it, Google, or, as I do, Bing it, and you’ll be inundated with cries of unfairness by the teachers.
But what about the students?
All this discussion gets lost in “student performance,” but nobody cares about what the students themselves want and need. At The A+ Club, we remind the kids that they have no say in teacher pay: no matter how bad that teacher, no matter how unfair that grade, no matter how boring that class, you the student will never, ever change how much or if that teacher gets paid. You can’t fire him. You can’t reduce her pay. Instead, we redirect students to consider what they can control, namely their own tactics on how to approach a problematic class or teacher. Even if those teachers are truly unfair or flawed, it just is, we tell the kids. Instead of assigning blame to the teacher, see what you, the student, can do about it.
The kids are right, though. Teacher employment is disconnected from student input, especially that most significant indicator of teacher success, teacher pay. My blog post on Teacher Pay got into some ideas on how to introduce market conditions into teacher pay. It’s whimsical and unrealistic, but I hoped to make the point that teachers and schools need to view students as a client base and not as a captured audience.
Students are consumers of education, and they deserve to be treated as clients who can exercise choice. Until that day, however, we gotta work with what we got. More importantly, thought academic outcomes belong to students, not teachers, so it really is up to the kids. Let’s talk more about that instead about what the teachers need.
The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.