The $125,000 Teacher

This article, Next Test: Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers is causing a bit of a sensation. But hold on....

Great teachers should be paid well. And these (in the article) are all great teachers--they've already proven themselves. I just hope that when the school does well (which it will because all of the teachers are hand-selected for their excellent ability) people don't then conclude 'if we pay all teachers $125k/year they will then become great teachers and all the schools will be better.' Not true. We need to pay great teachers very well, good teachers well, and bad-to-abusive teachers? -- not at all.

It is a fallacy to think that if we simply increase ALL teachers' salaries tomorrow, they will all do a better job and work harder. Why would they? Once they have tenure, they don't have to. And the great teachers are already working their arses off. The other rationale--that it will entice more and better-qualified people to teach--is mostly wrong as well. What generally keeps high-achievers out of teaching, in my view, are these factors: the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through (and pay for!) to become a "certified" teacher, the unprofessional nature of the job (everyone paid the same no matter how hard they work or how well they do), and the lack of stature afforded the profession (mostly due to the first two factors). 

Yes, some people would consider teaching if it paid better. But many, many more would consider it at the same pay if they could jump right in to student teaching and be paid as they are trained (as in other professions), if they knew that their hard work would pay off and if they believed that they could be successful. It would also help if good and hard-working new teachers were rewarded with many job offers instead of being the first ones laid off in budget crunch-time no matter how good they are. That's a pretty big disincentive to not become a teacher as a second career, no?

One of the reasons education reformers support charter schools and (some of them) school vouchers is to promote competition among publicly-funded schools. If all parents can choose among many schools, the theory goes, the monopoly will be broken up and schools will have to compete for students by improving what they have to offer.  

The problem with this, however, is that traditional public schools will NEVER really be able to compete with innovative new schools until they can hire and fire freely (the way private and charter schools can). So these reforms both need to happen: the creation of more options so all parents have school choices for their children AND the elimination of tenure from the profession of teaching (and the opening up of ways people can get into the profession) so it resembles any other professional, competitive job requiring a college degree.


Posted on June 8, 2009 .