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Teacher vs. CEO Accountability

Critics like to point to the difference between how teachers in public schools and chief executive officers in the private sector are treated as prima facie evidence of the hopelessness of reform. Their argument is that when CEOs don't perform, they are fired. In contrast, when teachers don't perform, there are no consequences. I'd like to examine this assertion more closely.

Despite the lofty rhetoric, the truth is that the perks and pay packages given to CEOs are largely independent of their track record ("In Defense of the CEO," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 12). Or to put it more directly, "many CEOs are overpaid or, even worse, paid for incompetence." In fact, "executives whose ineptitude or laziness makes their companies ripe for takeover also get rewarded sometimes." Defenders argue that the status quo is the only way of recruiting and retaining top talent because "we can't easily distinguish good CEOs from bad ones before the employment contract is signed."

All of the above should call into question the validity of the charges made against teachers because they reveal a blatant double standard. For example, consider the last. I say it's extremely difficult to identify good teacher candidates from bad ones before they step into the classroom - never mind before they sign an employment contract. Yet critics maintain that if school districts studied more closely the backgrounds of teachers they hire the teacher turnover rate would plummet.

But even if school districts did investigate more carefully teachers before they sign them to a contract, critics would still not be satisfied. They also want to make it much easier to fire underperforming teachers. They claim the way to do so is to abolish tenure. They fail to see the hypocrisy in their demand. "Before joining the shareholder activists calling for CEOs to be held accountable and stripped of their more obvious excesses, it's worth pausing to think about why those perks exist in the first place." I submit that tenure exists for a very good reason as well.

I could go on, but I think the indictment handed up by reformers is severely flawed. In a nutshell, one incompetent CEO can make more in one year driving the company into the ground than 100 teachers can make in a lifetime successfully teaching students.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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