moldybluecheesecurds 2

Friday, April 08, 2011

A few reasons our public education system needs help

Three interesting articles on education in the past month:

From Nicholas Kristof, an impassioned argument for paying teachers more, based on their disproportionate impact on the rest of our society. We used to value them more:
Changes in relative pay have reinforced the problem. In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher, the McKinsey study found.

From Minnpost, a discussion of how little education policy and practice applies the lessons from research about what works.

Also in the news, highlights a new report that finds that merit pay – a favorite among education reformers, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan – didn’t work to improve test scores in a New York City experiment, and was actually connected with dropping test scores among middle school students. A Vanderbilt University study in September found largely the same thing, that offering middle-school math teachers bonuses up to $15,000 did not produce gains in student test scores.

Finally, a story from Miller McCune, showing that collective bargaining for teachers helps increase average student test scores, and especially helps those students at the top, but it increases the achievement gap between whites and non-white students. A teacher union law lapsed in 1999, and the real-life experiment provided this lesson:

In many districts, pre-1999 collective bargaining agreements allowed “senior teachers — those with the most experience, who are often higher-performing teachers — to concentrate themselves in a district’s higher-income, higher-performing schools...High-poverty schools with lower-performing students, by contrast, wind up with the least-experienced (and least successful) teachers."
It's a good illustration of how teacher collective bargaining isn't always aligned with students' best interest. However, I'd argue that's reason to amend union contracts, rather than throw out teacher unions (since, as the first article points out, teachers are unfortunately low paid relative to their societal value).

Overall, these articles leave me with the feeling that our education policy is badly failing. We pay teachers too little to attract and retain the best talent, we fail to use best practices in the schools, and we have mindless attacks on unions that fail to address the major issues (student performance) and instead are more about political retribution.

No comments: