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Sunday Papers: 'Evaluate and Differentiate'

Amid the ongoing debates over collective bargaining and the power of unions, teachers were (yet again) a focus of major newspaper op-ed pages yesterday:

In the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof (apparently taking a breather from the revolutions in the Mideast), blasted the "pernicious fallacy" emanating out of the nation's air waves that teachers are somehow overpaid and responsible for the nation's budget problems. In fact, he argued, if our schools are to be competitive, we need to pay teachers more—albeit at differentiated rates based on performance:

Teaching is unusual among the professions in that it pays poorly but has strong union protections and lockstep wage increases. It's a factory model of compensation, and critics are right to fault it. But the bottom line is that we should pay teachers more, not less—and that politicians who falsely lambaste teachers as greedy are simply making it more difficult to attract the kind of above-average teachers our above-average children deserve.

Somewhat similarly, in The Washington Post, former NYC schools Chancellor Joel Klein argued that the problem with the national discussion around teachers and unions is that it too often fails to distingush between good and bad teachers. What's needed is not teacher bashing but an emphasis on better rewarding the best teachers through evaluation and merit pay:

Whatever the criteria, the key point is that we must evaluate and differentiate - with consequences. We do teachers an enormous disservice by perpetuating the myth that we can't evaluate their performance and that, consequently, neither excellence nor poor performance matters. Teachers are far too important to our students and the future of our country to treat them as interchangeable cogs or widgets.

(Just as a side note: Seriously, did some sort of memo go out among education reformers about this "interchangeable widgets" metaphor?)

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