Thursday, February 25, 2010

Should teachers be more like doctors?

The New York Times recently featured an article about New York City's struggles to get rid of bad teachers. Despite a two-year effort by the city, only three teachers have been fired, while teachers whose cases are being decided sit in empty rooms and receive full-pay because of their union contracts. This article has spurred an interesting online discussion by education policy experts, teachers, and analysts. The difficulty in all of this lies in the fact that while we might all agree that we should have "effective" teachers, it is both hard to define what effectiveness means and hard to measure it objectively. Further, since teachers have low salaries (relative to most other professions that require a college degree), it is understandable that they might want strong union protection to at least have job security as a benefit. This got me thinking... should we maybe treat our teachers like we treat our doctors?

Of course, the health care system and doctors have their own host of problems. But at least, it seems like, the standards for what is acceptable in the medical profession are higher than they are in the teaching profession. Doctors must get in and go to medical school, go through training and residency, pass numerous difficult tests -- all of which we tend to think is reasonable given that these are the people who have our lives in their hands. As a result, doctors are well-compensated and subject to rigorous evaluation (although, I am sure this varies across the country substantially) that holds them accountable - because, again, our lives are in their hands.

I think that education should be placed on the same level of importance as health. Teachers should be subject to high accountability standards, where they are evaluated not only by their principals and administrators, but also by peer teachers from other schools (who perhaps hold a more objective view and also have a better understanding of what it takes to be a good educator). Effectiveness of teachers should be evaluated rigorously based on "value-added" -- taking into account how much teachers improve learning and understanding, and whether they inspire passion and caring about different subjects among students. We shouldn't deem teachers to be "effective" just because they have good students.

Teachers should receive more extensive schooling and training -- and not just in certification or even master's programs -- but through residency-type experiences with assistant-teaching or group teaching. And perhaps all of this shouldn't be optional - it should be required, and there should be a more rigorous selection process that chooses the best teachers and places them in the most disadvantaged schools that need them. In return for the hard work that aspiring teachers must do to get a job, they should be compensated highly, and rewarded for going to disadvantaged districts. Further, the need for strong union protection that leads to ineffective teachers staying at their jobs would then be lessened, since the benefit of job security would be replaced with a higher overall salary that allows people to save and get through times of occasional unemployment.

I don't know that this would ever happen, but I think that given the dismal situation in our current educational system, something needs to change. Maybe we should treat our teachers more like we treat our doctors?

1 comment:

  1. Here's a great piece of investigative journalism from the New Yorker on just the difficulty of firing teachers:

    Although some of ways of measuring teacher performance are ambiguous, as you suggest, a number of these teachers have made fairly egregious violations that would get a person fired with cause from any job.


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