I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Christie's Plan Fails, Even On Its Own "Merits"

"... and there's [sic] bad teachers, too. But luckily, in each one of those categories, they're the minority. The overwhelming majority of teachers are really good people who care deeply about their kids and want to do a good job." - Chris Christie, June 3, 2010.
However, we need to radically change how we pay this overwhelming majority because...


So the guv formally stepped on the merit pay express today. Teacher pay will now be determined not by seniority, but by data (read, state standardized test scores).

Before we break down the inherent illogic of this plan, let's quickly catalog the many questionable premises on which it is based:
But let's go ahead and actually grant Christie all of the above. How does his argument stack up?

Well, if we have too many bad teachers, and pay is the primary issue, basic economic theory tells us there can only be two reasons:
  1. We don't have a large enough pool of qualified people who want to become teachers, so we have to take on those who will turn out to be bad at the job.
  2. Somehow, bad teachers are sneaking into the system, and market interference is keeping them there.
If we buy into premise #1, the solution is simple: pay teachers more. There will be a greater supply of qualified teachers if we up the price we pay for them - supply and demand, right?

Christie's proposed and previous teacher pay cuts would suggest he doesn't buy into that theory, which leaves us with #2. Somehow, large numbers of unqualified people are earning college degrees in education, passing the Praxis, getting certification, receiving good evaluations while teaching for three years without tenure, and then at some point in the future falling off the rails and failing our kids. Or maybe we've allowed large numbers of people to run the schools who have allowed miscreants to populate teaching jobs unchecked.

OK, let's even grant him all that, even though he has presented absolutely no evidence that this is the case. But we'll just go ahead and cut the pay of these allegedly incompetent people and drive eventually them out of the profession.

Then what?

I would assume that the goal here is to have a great teacher in every classroom. When we achieve that goal, does EVERYBODY get merit pay bonuses?

I mean, that's what this is all about, right? All these "superior" people who would have gone on to careers on Wall Street are now going to teach in Camden because they will be "rewarded" for their talent. OK, let's say (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that this plan works, and now every teacher in NJ rocks. Does EVERYONE get merit raises?

It seems to me that the entire payroll for NJ teachers would have to increase if this were the case. I mean, you have to compete against the rest of the workforce opportunities, right? That smart 20-year-old who was considering medicine has to be able to see a future where he's making a teacher's salary that's at least close to what he could make as a dermatologist if he's going to join the teaching labor pool. Otherwise, even if he's confident he will rise to the top of the education profession, he would never even consider being a teacher.

"Wait," says the 'former. "You don't have to increase the overall payroll. Just kick out the bad teachers and replace them with good ones for the same cost!"

But Christie said the "overwhelming majority" of teachers were good right now. I assume they'll get merit pay if they're good - at least equal to what they're making in the current system.

So, when we kick the bad guys out, we'll have to pay at the very least what the "overwhelming majority" is making. But that hasn't been enough to get our young dermatologist-to-be into the pipeline. He obviously could teach if he wanted to: the "overwhelming majority" of teachers are good, so nothing's stopping him.

No, we'll have to pay more for him. Just one question:

Where are you going to get the money, Chris? Or will you be out of the door by then?


Liam57 said...

Excellent peice! As a Special Ed teacher, I wonder how I'll be evaluated for merit pay. I also wonder about all the non-academic teachers, how do you evaluate merit for a music program?

thinker said...

The reason that you can't find logic in what Christie is saying is because there is little or no logic involved. This is largely because you can't base logic on bull. He says that the majority of teachers are good, but he's just saying that to try to gain some semblance of credibility with parents and those who still value teachers. He can't go out and say "the majority of teachers suck" because all those voting parents out there will think "hmmm...my kids teacher is great, what is this guy talking about?" and he will immediately lose credibility. So instead, he feeds the public this line of bull that he doesn't really believe himself. I know he doesn't believe it not just because of the way he treats them as a whole (which we all know and I won't restate here in the interest of brevity, but also because in his "reforms" at some point he talked about how he would have this designation of "master teachers" (really, really great teachers. These master teachers would apparently be opening and new charter schools left and right. He points out that only a few teachers will earn the master teacher designation. That statement tells me that he doesn't believe that there are that many teachers who are really, really great at what they do.

It's a bit nuanced of course, since he didn't actually say they are good teachers, just good people who WANT to do a good job...what he leaves out of course is his view that they are NOT doing a good job at all. But he is banking on the fact that the public is too dumb to pick up on his little nuances. I don't know if he's right about that or not, but lately it sure seems that way.