Professionalism in the time of incentive-based studies

Hey John, a couple of weeks back, a few of us on Twitter had a conversation about the comparison between teachers and athletes (everyone does it, including me). The always poignant John Spencer (@johntspencer) echoes sentiments I’ve heard friends like Stephen Lazar make before: “I’d rather pay teachers a living age and ‘reward’ them with […]

Hey John,

A couple of weeks back, a few of us on Twitter had a conversation about the comparison between teachers and athletes (everyone does it, including me). The always poignant John Spencer (@johntspencer) echoes sentiments I’ve heard friends like Stephen Lazar make before: “I’d rather pay teachers a living wage and ‘reward’ them with creative control and autonomy.” In baseball terms, that’s a fastball right down the middle, with the batter striking out looking. As a corollary, I would also add that I might be influenced to take on merit pay if I knew that every teacher got paid the way professional athletes do, and the way they’re represented in their unions, the media, and our society as a whole.

I have nothing against athletes getting their six to eight figure salaries because that’s their slice of the multi-million (often billion) dollar pie of their sport. So what does that say about the way our society pays teachers (and many other public servants) for the value they add to our civilization as a whole?

Barnett Berry made me think of this conversation after his piece on some economists’ flawed studies on education. He writes:

Would it be outrageous for economists to have to pay back part of their salaries if their theories don’t improve the economy? What if education economists had to return consulting fees to the think tanks that paid them if their methods were flawed? Or if their conclusions ignored other research findings and the realities of teaching?

If you think this would be a good idea, then Harvard professor and MacArthur Genius Grant winner Roland Fryer and Freakonomics co-author and University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt (and colleagues John List and Sally Sadoff) might just have to cancel their vacations this fall. They would have to return the pay they received for their recent paper and recommendation that teachers must return salary bonuses (paid up front) when their students’ test scores do not improve sufficiently from one year to the next.

This dude abides.

Not sure why economists would suggest taking away monies from teachers here when we barely make a living wage, even with a masters.’ To further complicate their argument, they use Chinese factory workers as a a model, implying that teachers here are the equivalent of factory workers there. Are teachers just assembly workers or real professionals? If people view us in the former, that would explain the erroneous policies levied on teachers now, but if we’re the latter, then we have a huge challenge ahead of us.

Let’s face it: even those of us in the middle of the line-up have to do extra hours of outside of classroom time getting ready for the school year. The harder we work at our craft, the better we become as teachers, and the easier we make it look. Good teaching isn’t easy, though. It’s hours upon hours of arduous, focused practice for a few hours of showtime. Even in the off-season, we have to stay abreast of the latest happenings before we lose ground in our performance. Study after study shows that merit-based systems based on what economists think (even the Broad- and Gates-funded studies) don’t work. I try hard enough as is, as I’m sure those teachers did.

But I don’t expect to get paid the way our athletes do right now; I just hope we can get paid enough so we can keep doing our jobs properly, as the experts we are.

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