Teachers Inverted

Fixing the education system.
Sept. 8 2008 10:34 AM

Teachers Inverted

Last week's posts on teachers, compensation, and unions provoked a lot of mail from readers, and I thought I'd kick off this second week with two suggestions.

One reader, K.B., wrote in with a few more examples of what she thinks are promising experiments in teacher pay:

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In your discussion of teacher quality and merit-pay programs, I was disappointed that you talked about the failed Florida bonus program but didn't talk more about some of the innovative "second generation" merit-pay (or performance-pay, as they're more often called) programs that are being tested in school districts all over the country. These programs, which include Minnesota's QComp , the TAP program, Oregon's CLASS Project , and many of the individual TIF sites, as well as the Denver ProComp program you cited , are attempting to learn from the mistakes of programs like Florida's. Instead of basing compensation on test scores alone, they are working to develop more nuanced measures of teacher quality, often in collaboration with both individual teachers and teachers' unions.

Another reader, R.C., suggested an intriguing inverted approach to a teacher's traditional career path:

Here's the situation now: a new graduate comes out of ed school and is looking for a job. It is very hard to get into the good suburban districts without experience, so she ends up in an urban or urban-ring district with high-needs kids. Let's say this teacher is a reasonably decent teacher. In three years (about the time when studies say teachers really start to know their stuff), the odds are she is going to either quit teaching altogether or hop to a suburban district that now values her experience - because the high-needs school has burned her to a frazzle between the demands of the kids and the incompetence of the system.

Here's what SHOULD happen: a new graduate comes out of ed school and finds a job in a good suburban district. In three years, this teacher is good and is hitting her stride. Wouldn't it be nice to have her in an urban school? Why not come up with a program that allows her to go to an urban school, with merit pay, for a few years with a guarantee that she will have a job in her old district? There are VERY few good, dedicated teachers who can put in an entire career under the conditions found in most urban districts right now.

Paul Tough is the author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character and Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest To Change Harlem and America. He is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and a speaker on various topics including education, poverty, parenting, and politics.

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