Competitive capitalism is based on an individually based free market, free choice system. The emphasis on freedom, both economic and political, has resulted in American citizens having the highest standard of living and being part of the most secure nation in the history of the world.
But let's limit our discussion herein to the role of government compared to individuals in the field of education.
Here's the bottom line: Unions and government are in serious opposition to the adoption of common sense rules based on longstanding American values of individualism and free choice to address and solve our problems with public education, its cost and quality, and its many restrictions on the exercise of free choice by students and their parents.
The idea of merit based "pay for performance" starts with the A-F grading systems in elementary school, continues with participation in school sports programs and other merit based activities, and then abruptly ends for many when we become adults and go to work as teachers, government workers or members of bargaining units in many industrial companies.
Then the focus is on employee "security" and a socialistic everybody gets treated the same as everybody else approach, thus inhibiting incentives for extraordinary effort, excellence and hard work on the part of otherwise would be overachieving individuals. Customers, aka students and parents, get the short end of the stick in this socialistic approach to education. So do taxpayers and many excellent teachers as well.
That's why an editorial in today's New York Times, a very liberal and "progressive" institution, is worth reading. I wouldn't have expected such a common sense editorial to appear in the Times.
Carrots and Sticks for School Systems says this:
"Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been pushing the states to create rigorous teacher evaluation systems that not only judge teachers by how well their students perform but also — when the results are in — reward good teachers while easing chronic low performers out of the system. More than half the states have agreed to adopt new evaluation systems in exchange for competitive grants from the federal Race to the Top program or greater flexibility under the No Child Left Behind law.
These incentives are long overdue. As things stand now, according to a study by the New Teacher Project, a Brooklyn-based policy group, many school managers make no distinction between high-performing and low-performing teachers. The result is that poor teachers stick around while good teachers go elsewhere or leave the profession, frustrated because they are not promoted, rewarded with better pay, or even simply acknowledged.
That clearly needs to change if the new evaluation systems are to have any impact on the quality of the teacher corps.
The study covered four large urban school districts consisting of more than 2,100 schools and nearly a million and half students. It measured about 20,000 teachers by how much academic growth students showed in a given year. On average, the highest-performing teachers — about one-fifth of those studied — helped students learn two to three additional months’ worth of math and reading, compared with the average teacher, and five to six months more compared with low-performing teachers.
The students clearly noticed the difference. In surveys, they were more likely to report that the better teachers cared about them, made learning enjoyable, and did not let them give up on difficult problems. Even so, high-performing teachers said that administrators were often indifferent to their performance, neither rewarding nor praising them. Only about a quarter of the high performers were offered leadership roles in the schools. Many said they were not even encouraged to stay another year. And schools were nearly as likely to offer leadership opportunities to low performers.
In short, most school cultures do not seem to value excellence in teaching or appreciate how difficult it is to achieve. The costs are great: an estimated 10,000 high-performing teachers leave the nation’s 50 largest districts in a year, either for other districts or to exit the profession. That is a heavy loss, but it is especially costly to low-performing school systems that should be strengthening the teacher corps year upon year.
The study offers several recommendations. School systems need to create explicit policies aimed at retaining high performers, and hold principals accountable for creating an environment in which those policies succeed. Schools should offer higher earning potential to excellent teachers early in their careers instead of waiting to reward them years later. And the states should set clear standards for effectiveness, encouraging chronic low performers to leave the system."
Common sense isn't very commonly employed, and that's especially the case with the New York Times editorial page.
That said, if something can't go on forever, it won't. Thus, it's a good sign when even the Times acknowledges that incentives and personal achievement matter, even in government schools.
Maybe this is some kind of broader omen for society finally accepting the need to adopt a meritocracy based system in public education, a system which has long served us well in other fields, but in education fell victim to powerful teachers unions and the government knows best dictates during the past several decades.
Stay tuned. More to say later.