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The World's Most Underpaid Profession (creating an economy for great teachers) (marcuswest.in)
15 points by marcuswestin on Oct 31, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 16 comments

1) This would severely impair the earning potential of SpEd teachers; many SpEd students either don't work after high school, or get jobs doing dishes (or similar work). My high school (I went to a school for the Deaf) had 100% of its students on IEPs (Deaf persons are generally underemployed by a pretty decent margin), and about 1/5 of the students there had multiple disabilities.

2) This would encourage teachers to go after those students whose future earning potentials seem highest.

I'm a good teacher, but there's only so much I can do with 180 hours over the course of the year, particularly when that 180 hours is split up among 25 students. This isn't excuse making (there have been a few students for whom I've made a substantial difference), but rather an illustration of the pragmatic difficulty of providing 1-on-1 attention to every student, or even to most students.

3) We already do this, at least somewhat. Here in the US, most public schools are paid for by way of property taxes. In more affluent areas (read: where people earn more money, or at least are able to spend more money), the schools tend to be better, as they have nicer facilities, more resources, and better-paid teachers. More importantly, their students are accustomed to a higher SES, and so see that as the default position (not many people want to downgrade). The biggest predictor of a child's future earnings is how much his or her parents make.

HN Version of the comment I posted on your site:

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

As a teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools, I tend to think that there is a direct correlation between socioeconomic status (SES) and student performance. Students who come from homes where their parents are educated and have jobs and take care of their kids likely are not in the lowest SES categories so they are expected to do well and work hard on school. Kids in this situation generally meet their learning goals.

Kids that have no parental support are common in the lowest SES situations. These kids basically have to raise themselves and their younger siblings because mom or dad aren't there. It takes a lot of training and an amazing school environment to lift kids out of these situations and keep them on pace with their learning.

The big reason why performance based pay for teachers is such a hot issue (besides the fact that teachers WILL cheat on their students tests to get their bonuses) is that every community has such a wide array of challenges to overcome. Kids from one area of Milwaukee have very different environments from the kids across town, for example. It's hard to determine benchmarks for performance when the kids are operating at such different stages of development.

Thanks for your thoughts!

> It's hard to determine benchmarks for performance when the kids are operating at such different stages of development.

Agreed - the point I'm striving for is an incentive conceived from shared gains (you benefit directly from creating value) rather than evaluation by proxy (performance evaluation). It's possibly too theoretical a point to be of much value though, I see that :)

Part of me says, "Teacher evaluations come down to tests, and tests are b.s.", but another part of me thinks there has to be some way to evaluate whether students make progress. Our district tries to collect data on this but I'm not sure if it works all that great.

Assuming one could adequately define "progress", or at least adequately demonstrate it (there's some interesting work being done with portfolios), such data collection ultimately has to be done on a student-by-student level, rather than a class-wide or school-wide level.

Of course, such a system would also have to carry some type of differentiation; for example, if I'm reading at a 3rd grade level, say 2 years behind or ahead of my peers, then it'd be silly to make me read the same books as they're reading if those books either won't challenge me or will challenge me too much.

I guess this would also entail getting rid of class grouping by age, and instead group by ability (and probably at least one or two other salient features). It'll also require that we re-think grades and what they represent, as simply completing a set amount of work doesn't necessarily mean that progress is being made.

The current system in place seems to be geared toward evaluating schools. Since this is proving insufficient, I suspect the next move will be to evaluate classes (Value-added metrics, for example). This one'll prove insufficient, too, though it will take another 5-10 years.

"With computers nowadays. . ."

I was thinking today about the potential of digital textbooks/instruction especially in subjects like math. Schools group so many students so arbitrarily that most kids are not engaged at all in their class. The teacher gives a lesson but half of the students didn't understand yesterday's lesson so they don't understand today's either, one third of the students are ready for something new.

Give every student a laptop with extremely limited internet access. Students rotate from class to class getting mostly individual help from teachers on different subjects and work on their individual progress on a web-based teaching curriculum. All Johnny or Suzy has to do each day is make progress towards his/her educational goals, stay on task, and not break anybody or anything and they can be "successful" in the most modest sense. Somebody breaks a laptop, oh well. No work is lost, it's all web based, get a new machine and move on. Smells like the future to me.


The Khan Academy is a prime example of how to use technology well for learning, particularly in instances where there is a "right" answer (such as math, at least how it's taught now).

The danger from this is that the interactivity is lost; I can assign the questions from the end of a chapter in a textbook (which requires no more original work on my part than assigning questions in a digital textbook), but if things are checked by computers then they're likely things that are easily checked.

When I taught, I used those "objective" questions as launchpads, Bloom's Taxonomy-style (one cannot understand "Romeo and Juliet", for example, if one thinks that they lived happily ever after).

A combination between this and some type of small-group/1-on-1 interaction (and even some larger discussion groups) could be extremely powerful.

Given how much curriculum feels like a list of checkboxes to be ticked off (and in many cases, given how it is a list of checkboxes to be ticked off), computerizing the brute, low-level stuff would allow more time for the high-level stuff, particularly if all we're concerned about is rote memorization and recitation.

There are more ways to branch out from there that foster critical thinking and creativity, but this would be a start. This would be a very definite start.

As a student in College that was recently in high school, my response is that being a teacher is not the world's most underpaid profession.

The vast majority of teachers were underachievers when they were in school. They care very little about the students future's and well being and also aren't teaching because they want to teach, but teach because its a job.

There are many wonderful caring teachers, but they certainly aren't the majority. If you were to pay teachers more, you must first completely abolish teacher unions so that a meritocracy could form and those that don't really want to teach would be weeded out. The issue with teaching isn't that the JOB DESCRIPTION isn't important. Its that the people doing the job aren't passionate.

"what if we gave teachers a fraction of a percentage of her pupils' future earnings?"

Interesting, but how would this work for students who had an awful teacher? I would feel angry knowing that substandard teachers were earning the same amount as one who were positively influential?

I suppose you could have a rating system whereby the student could rate the teacher and a higher rating would correspond to a fairer percentage.

But then this might backfire on good teachers who have to deal with problematic students. Maybe the teacher is doing a good job in this case but will get a bad rating for nothing of their doing.

The economics solution would be to make teachers invest in students (paying cash to teach them!) in exchange for a percentage of future earnings. Taking a cheap student who everyone assumed would be a failure and inspiring and educating him into a successful entrepreneur might then be a better investment than finding a professor's son and providing an adequate education, due to a presumably kpmuch higher valuation of that child.

A problem is that a successful entrepreneur or hedgie is still more likely to come from a middle or upper class background and can easily make 1000x the return of other professions (which are more credential based, and hence a more level playing field for lower class students.). Hence, even at high valuations, investing in motivated, intelligent, well connected students may be the best investment.

Year on year changes would help ensure teachers were compensated fairly, as long as the market provided some kind of feedback to let parents and students evaluate teachers. I assume there is far greater variation among students and among teachers than between the teaching value offered by the same teacher to different students, but that may not be the case.

I don't really think this scheme is workable, but it provides the right economic incentives to everyone.

>> I don't really think this scheme is workable, but it provides the right economic incentives to everyone.

You're right, from an economics standpoint. However, there's a pretty hefty body of research talking about the effects of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation.

We've already seen merit pay fall flat in at least one instance ( http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2010/09/21/another-bl... ), which suggests that economic incentives don't translate to better instruction or learning.

Additionally, Alfie Kohn's research (see his book "Punished by Rewards") demonstrates fairly conclusively that the addition of extrinsic motivating factors (such as money) tends to decrease intrinsic motivation.

I'd much rather see all the time and money that administrating a system like this would take go to a comprehensive professional development system, reduction of class size, and/or providing more opportunities for genuine learning beyond rote memorization, but that's just me.

(Edit: added quotation at the beginning for clarity)

Wouldn't that also lead to incentives for teachers to encourage students towards professions that would have greater future earnings? Thereby discouraging them from fields that may be useful to society but not that economically viable (I shudder at the thought of every teacher encouraging their students to work on wall street :) )

Yup - that wouldn't be very nice :)

How would anyone know what percentage of my success went to each specific teacher of the 50 or more I had over my lifetime? Was it the teacher who taught me how to read and write, the one who taught me basic math or the one who taught me higher level skills that should earn the highest percentage? Maybe it was the one who showed the biggest interest in getting me on the right track when I deviated? There are so many arbitrary variables.

Yup - no pragmatic advice offered really, just a theoretical idea. Perhaps the most interesting point is simply that it's hard to put a value to the work of a teacher.

I see what you did there: you oriented toward an outcome of "value" and then substituted that with "earnings".

I take umbrage with your assumption that the goal of education is expressed in salary.

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