- He believes we really need to pay teachers more.
- He has no plan for how to raise the revenues to pay teachers more.
- Until he figures out how to pay teachers more, he thinks we need to fire bad teachers immediately. And replace them with good teachers, who will be paid with...
For an excellent example of this reformy creature's thinking, let's check in with education tourist Nick Kristof:
He's talking, of course, about the Chetty, Freidman, and Rockoff study that the Times wrote about last week. This is undoubtedly only the first of many such punditations that will call for a radical upending of the American school system on the basis of a single study done in a single city that has not yet been published and peer-reviewed.This latest study should elevate the issue on the national agenda, because it not only underscores the importance of education but also illuminates how we might improve schools.An essential answer: more good teachers. Or, to put it another way, fewer bad teachers. The obvious policy solution is more pay for good teachers, more dismissals for weak teachers.
Both Bruce Baker and Matt DiCarlo have dealt with the limitations and the media's misuse of the study. But let's put that aside for a minute, however, and ask a simple question: what polices would Kristof actually implement if he could?
Suppose that the bottom 5 percent of teachers could be replaced by teachers of average quality. The three economists found that each student in the classroom would have extra cumulative lifetime earnings of more than $52,000. That’s more than $1.4 million in gains for the classroom.Oh, it's that simple, huh? OK, let's just do that - just a few little problems to work out:
- How are you going to identify these bottom 5% of teachers? With unreliable standardized tests? Graded by low-paid workers? With high error rates? That aren't applicable to the vast majority of teachers? Doesn't sound like you're going to do a very good job of finding out who's at the bottom to me.
- Where are you going to get these new "average" teachers? Do you think they are lining up to teach in the most difficult schools for pay and job security based on unreliable standardized tests? Does that sound like a great career for the best and the brightest?
- What makes you so sure that getting kids to win better scores on bubble tests is what America needs to retain its economic supremacy? Are the 21st Century skills this country craves to be found on Scantron sheets? Remember: this study tracked earnings only until age 28 and in only one city; is that really good enough to extrapolate to our entire economy?
- The "lifetime earnings"in this study amount to about $250 per student per year. Seriously.
Kristoff doesn't much seem to care about this stuff; he's got bigger, stinkier fish to fry:
One of the paradoxes of the school reform debate is that teachers’ unions have resisted a focus on teacher quality; instead, they emphasize that the home is the foremost influence and that teachers can only do so much.
That’s all true, and (as I’ve often written) we need an array of other antipoverty measures as well, especially early childhood programs. But the evidence is now overwhelming that even in a grim high-poverty school, some teachers have far more impact on their students than those in the classroom next door. Three consecutive years of data from student tests — the “value added” between student scores at the beginning and end of each year — reveal a great deal about whether a teacher is working out, the researchers found.[...]
Kristoff is so eager to indulge in a little union bashing that he admits to ignoring what Matt DiCarlo wrote just so he can catch a teachers union engaging in... honestly, I don't know what. But it must be bad, because its a teachers union, and all serious people know they are the root cause of all of our problems, right Nick?The blog of the Albert Shanker Institute, endowed by the American Federation of Teachers, praised the study as “one of the most dense, important and interesting analyses on this topic in a very long time” — although it cautioned against policy conclusions (of the kind that I’m reaching).[emphasis mine]
So, yeah, we'll get around to that "array of other antipoverty measures" real soon - no really, I promise. And we'll come up with all that extra money for good teachers just as soon as we figure out how to raise it without taxing the rich, because everyone knows that's just impossible.
Until then, however, we can do exactly the opposite of every other developed country in the world and begin overemphasizing bubble tests. And I'm sure lots of bright, young people will show up to teach if we just keep talking about paying them more.