I came to pretty startling realization this week, y’all:  If I had it to do all over again, I’m pretty darn sure that I wouldn’t choose teaching as a profession.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love working with students.



Knowing that each day brings opportunities to have an impact on lives really IS incredibly rewarding — and every time one of the kids that I taught risks detention by sneaking out of the cafeteria to come and say hello, I remember that the work I’m doing matters.

But the sad truth is that #edpolicy decisions — the decisions that govern every aspect of my work — are increasingly made by politically driven nitwits who almost never have a clue about what really works in education.

Take the recent proposal by North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger to end teacher tenure and to institute a merit pay program based on standardized test scores as an example.

Sounds great in theory, right?

How could anyone argue with a law that establishes formal rewards and punishments for teachers?  Accountability matters, the thinking goes, and there’s been too little accountability in education for far too long.  Berger says it this way:

“Until we get the policy right, I don’t think the taxpayers of this state are prepared or should be asked to put more money into the public schools than we are presently.”

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/04/23/2020962/senate-leader-berger-proposes.html#storylink=cpy

Here’s the hitch in Ol’ Phil’s argument:  He’s not even CLOSE to getting the policy right.

Research has proven that merit pay schemes like the one that Phil is proposing actually lead to WORSE performance in any field that requires anything more than “rudimentary cognitive skill,” a point that Daniel Pink makes time and again in Drive — his book on the economics of motivation — and in this RSA Animate talk.

But research doesn’t matter to legislators like Berger, y’all.  Getting reelected does.

And getting people to the polls with sexy legislation that feeds into the myths that voters like to believe about what works and what doesn’t — something that Pink calls “American folklore” — is WAY easier and WAY cheaper than building support for effective policies built on a thorough understanding of the characteristics of quality learning spaces and experiences.

Stew in THAT for a minute, would you?

We are literally living in a world where the primary motivation behind the proposals that determine what schools look like ISN’T designing the kinds of learning environments that our kids deserve.  Instead, the primary motivation behind the proposals that determine what schools look like is designing the kinds of learning environments that might get a legislator reelected.


But we are also living in a world that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

The kinds of policies that would really improve our schools will cost far more — particularly in the form of providing teachers with more time and/or fewer students to work with — than most Americans are willing to pay.  What’s more, the kinds of policies that would really improve our schools aren’t quick fixes — and with the next election right around the corner, legislators ain’t got time for patience.

Which all makes teaching a pretty discouraging profession.

Those of us who stay will struggle to make crappy policies work — and STILL end up on the bottom of the political dog-pile when they don’t.  Worse yet, we’ll be called lazy by the very people whose crappy policies created all of the problems in education to begin with.

Does that sound like the kind of work environment that YOU’D recommend to anyone?


Related Radical Reads:

Note to Arne: Cash Incentives NEVER Work

Need MORE Proof that Incentives are Dangerous?

The Monster You’ve Created

Merit Pay for Teachers Are a Bad Idea

Share this post: