12/9/08

Gladwell's Blindspot on Teachers

Typically interesting piece by Gladwell on why it's hard to identify who will be a good teacher before they’re in the classroom, which bolsters the case for abolishing tenure, opening the field of entry wide, and being tough-minded about developing people and deciding who’ll make the cut in the first few years. That’s fine as far as it goes. But as often happens with Malcolm, his elegant storytelling obscures a vital truth about today’s teacher crisis. Especially for poor kids, we’re recruiting teachers from the bottom third of the college class, a stark change from the 1960s and 1970s, when we recruited from the top-third because women and minorities didn’t have as many career options outside the classroom. The quality of the teacher corps was subsidized by discrimination. That wave of talent is now set to retire in droves, but teaching simply isn’t an attractive career for today’s better college grads. Yes, they may try it via Teach for America for two years, but as Wendy Kopp would be the first to admit, the scale of TFA is puny compared to the national need.

Bottom line: unless we make the profession of teaching more attractive as a career, we’ll never lure the talent we need to lift student achievement (and sustain U.S. living standards) in an era of global competition. And while money isn’t the only answer, it has to be a big part of it, because starting salaries of $35,000 to $45,000 that top out after 25 years at $80,000 simply won’t change the choices that today’s better college students make. This is a policy fetish of mine – a chunk of my first book was about how to get starting salaries in high poverty districts to $65,000, and top salaries toward $150,000, in ways all sides could support. When a smart young couple graduating from college sees that if they’re good in the classroom they could aspire together to earn $200,000 to $250,000 before too long, the societal benefit would be enormous. (It's not just two more good teachers, after all -- it’s two less lawyers). DC chancellor Michelle Rhee’s current plan is the one serious hope on the scene right now for getting the breakthrough we need.

4 Comments:

Blogger Pcentrist said...

Any clue how the Obama administration feels on raising pay and offering a trade off of lesser tenure/job security?

Obama has made some comments about the tenure/job security side (notably in his speech announcing his candidacy), but I didn't see anything specific beyond that. And he's definitely talked about improving pay and conditions. But I didn't research it in-depth to see if he was really going to push your grand bargain idea from the 2 Percent Solution.

December 10, 2008 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Elphage said...

Matt, You keep harping on tenure. Tenure is not the problem. Teachers can easily be gotten rid of, even with tenure. The problem is, rather with management. Too many administrators do not help teachers become better, do not support them and when they need to be sent on there way, are to lazy or too stupid to go through the proper procedures to either get rid of them or help them imporve. It really is not that hard. Believe me, as a teacher union rep. I have been amazed at the number of administrators who botch the discipline process.

December 13, 2008 at 8:12 AM  
Blogger Elphage said...

Matt, You keep harping on tenure. Tenure is not the problem. Teachers can easily be gotten rid of, even with tenure. The problem is, rather with management. Too many administrators do not help teachers become better, do not support them and when they need to be sent on there way, are to lazy or too stupid to go through the proper procedures to either get rid of them or help them imporve. It really is not that hard. Believe me, as a teacher union rep. I have been amazed at the number of administrators who botch the discipline process.

December 13, 2008 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger chris667 said...

This is the best and most accurate position I have heard anyone in the media take. It warms my heart but I'm not sure Washington is listening. Until we have salaries that attract confident, creative,imaginative and innovative people who thrive on change our schools will languish in the mire they are in and it is not just inner city schools. Even the schools in our wealthier communities need a major infusion of the brightest minds of our time. Scores in these schools are due in large part to a rich gene pool and parents who can afford to supplement their education with tutors at up to $125 an hr.

Also remember that the lazy and incompetent administrators that Elphage criticizes are recruited from the ranks of teachers. Get better teachers and you'll end up with better administrators.

By the way has anyone looked at the our schools are managed-by volunteer school committees? This might have worked in the 50s when our systems were much smaller and the best and the brightest women were home and available. But now? All a superintendent needs to do to keep is job is keep a handful of school committee members happy. Some Supers work harder at this than they do at their job. It may be time to consider a new management strategy given that schools budgets can stretch into the many millions and employ thousands of people.

December 28, 2008 at 12:27 PM  

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