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What to do when banks and schools fail.

There are so many issues that I could have chosen for my first official blog entry.  Instead of painstakingly trying to figure out what the perfect starting point is, I decided to just jump into an issue and see what happens.

So what happens when banks in the United States fail?  Over the past few years, we as a country have decided to lend them taxpayer dollars to bail them out, only to find that we are facing additional banks in trouble.  In return, some of those banks that were bailed out continue to pay millions of dollars to their top executives in bonuses.  Now before you haul off on me as a communist who does not believe in free enterprise, please allow me to finish…

If we accept the notion that education is in trouble (as has been beaten to death in the media with statistics showing the US slipping among industrialized nations on test scores), then why don’t we pay big money to top executives (principals) to come and save the schools?  What are we doing instead?  Well, let’s look at Florida.  Thankfully, the governor recently vetoed a law that would have tied teacher pay to student performance.  The argument for the proposed law?  Florida Congressional leaders said that this would help to foster a climate in which teachers are motivated to work harder for the pay.  And teachers working harder will then help turn around poor performing schools.  First of all, I will leave the whole discussion of students’ performance on a test as related to teacher effectiveness for another day.  Second of all, would someone please tell me where the incentive would be to work harder under such a proposed system?  Let’s examine the facts under such a proposed pay system:

1) students in low income communities perform worse on standardized tests than students in high income communities (as a whole);

2) teachers in low SES schools will have to work extra hard to get some of their students to pass the standardized tests on which their pay is based, whereas teachers in high SES schools will have to do relatively little (I’ve taught in both types of schools, so I know how much harder I have to work in a low SES school to get my students to even pass a unit test, let alone a standardized test);

3) teachers with more experience and advanced degrees are not interested in working extra hard, and they are in the highest demand in education because they KNOW how to teach (obviously, in general, there are exceptions to every generality).

The result:  When you add up those 3 simple facts, you are not going to make your poor performing schools better, you are going to make them worse.  The best teachers in those schools are going to seek the first escape to the school / district in which the likelihood of higher test scores (and thus higher pay) is much greater.  Thus, in the end, you are going to have the best teachers making the most money in the ALREADY best schools.  The poor performing schools will be revolving doors for teachers in which the best teachers will move on and the poor teachers will either quit or they will be kept on because no one else wants to fill the vacancies there.

I am not trying to say in this post that the banks should not have been bailed out.  There are billions of dollars at stake and our national economy to consider.  There are tens of thousands of jobs on the line.  It was not necessarily a bad move.  But what I am saying is that education is more important, that is, if we expect this country to continue competing economically in the world 30 years from now.  It is about time for our country to take a stand and fund education to the highest possible degree.  There has to be incentives to teach.  If you major in biology, what is the likelihood you will take a $30,000 salary in a teaching position, with the potential to make less given current funding proposals across the country such as the one in Florida, when instead, you could go onto med school or get a masters / PhD in research and work for a pharmaceutical company, etc, etc?  When we start talking about paying teachers for what they are worth thereby encouraging the brightest minds to enter education (as well as adopting a much better teacher evaluation system), then we can start talking about improving poor performing schools.

Many of the critics of education throw around buzz words such as market forces, privatization, vouchers, accountability, etc, to say that schools need to be more like businesses.  To that I say, well, then if we are to be treated more like a business, then why don’t you start paying us like a business?  You want to turn a school around, then you better pony-up the dollars to attract the best and brightest into the field of education.  You have to make it inviting for a physicist to want to leave NASA (or wherever) and teach high school.  Hmmm….$100,000 to work at NASA, or $38,000 to teach?  DUH!

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Failing Schools, Funding | , , , | Leave a comment