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Bill Gates: End teacher bonuses based on master's degrees and seniority (nytimes.com)
131 points by ilamont on Nov 20, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 144 comments



I went to an inner city Los Angeles high school. You wouldn't believe some of the individuals that can pass as qualified teachers. People that they themselves were never taught correctly, and went straight into teaching after college. This of course is the double whammy - poorly academically prepared people, with little real world experience - so they fail students on both counts.

And yet...the most annoying part of this experience was the attitude of the other students. I despised my high school mostly because absolutely nobody cared. I think it's hard for people from better areas grasp this. People really do tell the teacher to fuck off. People really do just talk amongst each other, listening to music, while the teacher tries to talk over them. And because no one puts in any level of effort whatsoever, you can get an A by simply just showing up.

I don't doubt we need better teachers. I don't doubt it at all. All I'm saying is we need better teachers at the youngest grade school levels to reach children while they are still, I guess reachable. And more importantly, we need a better way of educating parents to get their kids to care.

Then, we can really start holding teachers accountable.


Teaching sounds like one of the hardest jobs in the world. You get it from the kids, from the parents, from your superiors, from the government, from the media. I think I have at least a vague feeling for that spark of humanity that drives most good teachers, but I'm just astonished that it's enough for such a rare event to keep them doing what they do day-in day-out.


For the most needy inner city kids, I think boarding schools might be appropriate even at an early age. Their home environment and neighborhood is so shattered that what they need most is a stable day-to-day existence shielded from drugs, gangs, and criminal behavior. If they don't get that, by the teen years, they're stuck in feudalistic "ghetto thinking," start getting into increasingly serious trouble, and just aren't able to take school and its discipline games seriously anymore.

Of course, fixing the quality of instruction should probably come first.


The families of many of those students you refer to are just as shattered as their neighborhoods and that may be what makes it easy for them to be susceptible to influence from the neighborhoods. They wouldn't particularly care if boarding schools could help their kids or not, even if they could have access to boarding schools.

Following this thought, the importance of education(what life would be as compared to without) needs to be understood by that society, but the ones who need to listen probably wouldn't care to listen to preaching about education's merits.


"The families of many of those students you refer to are just as shattered as their neighborhoods and that may be what makes it easy for them to be susceptible to influence from the neighborhoods."

I find the stereotypes here frankly appalling. Have you guys even lived in the ghetto, or even taught in one? Inner city students are just as motivated and understand the importance of education as any other kid living in middle suburbia. They've known that since it was ingrained in them as kindergartners. It's not a people problem. It's a systems problem.


Have you? My school was by no means "inner city" but I did grow up in a very low-income area.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of students did not care as much. There was that group of students who I basically knew from elementary school to high school, the core group of students who really put in an effort and tried harder.

Bad system and bad students are not mutually exclusive. There was definitely students who I know tried but did not do well because they required more help and couldn't get it.


My high school was in the bottom 25% of NY State. We had kids carrying metal and glass. It's not ghetto, but it was low end.

I'd agree with the statement that most of the students there were not particularly motivated. But who knows, maybe kids become more motivated when you go from the bottom 25% to the bottom 10%.


"Their home environment and neighborhood is so shattered that what they need most is a stable day-to-day existence shielded from drugs, gangs, and criminal behavior."

You do realize you're talking out of your ass right? 99% of inner-city youths don't do drugs, aren't in gangs, and aren't involved in criminal behavior. Nice way to stereotype them though.


99% of inner-city youths don't do drugs...

If true, this means inner city youth do drugs about 50x less than youth in general. (Not asserting any precision in the numbers, just throwing out orders of magnitude.)

http://www.teendrugabuse.us/teendrugstatistics.html


You don't have to partake in any of that to be adversely affected by it.


I may not have had to deal with as bad of a school as you did, but from what I have experienced in school life in the past, I have come to the conclusion that the #1 problem is students, with #2 being parents, maybe #3 being the way the (US at least) public school system is designed, and then somewhere at #4 or below would be teachers. Not saying that every teacher is great or without flaw. Just that many are good, many are decent, and many are -- well -- mostly insignificant compared to the impact of the students themselves, their parents, the system, etc.


This is easy to say but hard to do. "Based on excellence" is the mantra I've heard from software development circles for years and yet...

1. How many of us have lost productivity because some other developer ran rough-shod through code caring not for maintainability, readability, or even extensibility? Which one was praised and which one rewarded? Doesn't apply to teachers? Ever have a dud who couldn't do simple math in charge of the algebra class? Guess what the next teacher has to deal with.

2. How do "normal" people in managerial roles judge competency between two people in such roles? When looking at our own industry we see how difficult it is for "normal" people to make those sorts of judgement calls. Some schools require only 2 years teaching experience before moving on to superintendent roles. Some states more. With such divergence what can we expect?

3. How will we measure such excellence? What metric? What new system will evolve to capitalize on this metric despite the spirit of the metric? Unintended consequences?


There is no bureaucratic rule that can be devised that can separate good teachers from bad ones. Every such rule can and will be gamed. It's like the difference between art and porn - the difference is obvious by inspection, but impossible to codify.

With a free market school system, people will know who the good teachers are and will pay for them (supply and demand).

With a government school system, this simply will never work, because the people paying the salaries will never be the ones judging the teachers.


Unless the teachers are going to be individually contracted by parents, don't private-sector schools have the same evaluation problem? They still have to separate good and bad teachers via some sort of process, probably overseen by management (aka bureaucracy). The similarity of the agency problems is one reason corporations internally often look so much like governments.


Private schools can fire teachers subjectively. A good private school principal can use gut feel to evaluate a teacher. But that doesn't scale, unless we find a way to identify and recruit very smart, very trustworthy principals on a large scale.


People are emotionally averse to firing others they may have been working with for years, and there's not a good enough reason to fire someone in a private organization unless they affect the bottom line, and outside of exceptional cases I don't see how the bottom line changes much based on individual teachers. You're probably not going to quit private school based on any one single teacher.

You need a strong economic incentive for the organization in order for the "fire more easily" idea to work. For instance, if a private school got paid according to the competitiveness of the college the student is accepted into.


It's not obvious we'd be worse off if we just made public schools be like private schools in this respect.

(That's a Jerry Weinberg use of "just", of course: it would be a lot of trouble to do.)


I remember reading an article (linked from HN I believe) that was a response to the "Waiting for Superman" movie which cited numbers showing that private schools didn't perform any better than public schools. That would suggest that either the ability to fire teachers subjectively doesn't have an impact on student performance, or that private schools don't fire enough teachers or the metrics the private schools use to fire teachers are not in line with what would improve student achievement.


To some extent, sure, the larger the organization is the more bureaucratic and inefficient it gets at about everything. But there's still one fundamental difference - with public schools, one is forced to attend (truancy laws) and forced to pay for it.


And fundamentally why the idea that private enterprise is always more efficient is a fundamentally flawed premise.


Overall I would agree that free market bureaucracies are more efficient and better run than goverernment bureaucracies.

However, the fact that a bureaucracy is not run by the government does not mean that it knows what level of contribution individual employees are making.

Calculating such contributions is infeasible for all but the smallest groups (like startups, as PG has written about).

The people who are best at selecting good teachers are pupils. If classes were optional we would quickly find out which were worth attending by watching children vote with their feet.

However, children will never be allowed to do this in schools. A school that took children seriously and respected them as humans (or even just as customers), would quickly cease to resemble anything that we would recognise as a school.

Despite all this, education is in the process of being reformed. This is possible because reform is happening outside schools, for example in the unschooling movement.


Right, and in a free market system, those who can pay for the best teachers will get them, and those who cannot pay will be left with the worst teachers. Isn't that unfair?

That is also exactly the opposite of what Gates is trying to accomplish with his plan. He wants to incentivize teachers to work with the poorest students at the most disadvantaged schools. By definition, the free market alone CANNOT solve this problem.


The problem we're discussing is how does one determine who the "best" teachers are? Gates did not propose a solution to this problem. I submit that, being a government school system, such a solution will involve a bureaucratic rule that will inevitably be gamed.

Note that the current system of determining the best as being a bureaucratic rule-based combination of seniority and educational level is a recognized failure. I guarantee you that all the alternative rules proposed in this thread can be easily gamed as well.

This is in spite of the fact that anyone working in a school (including the students) knows who the best and worst teachers are, and don't need any rule to tell them.


Generally people seem to support either performance improvement measured by exams (i.e. how much students improved over the course of the term) or some sort of peer-review system.

Both have their own problems, but both seem to be much better than the arbitrary system of seniority. There is evidence to show teachers get better with experience, but almost all of that improvement happens within the first few years of a teachers career.


It's actually not obvious that a testing-based teacher measurement regime would be better than the seniority system. The seniority system does lock in mediocre teachers, but it has minimal knock-on effects to the actual curriculum. Test-based measurement has already made some curricula toxic to students, and those test results have minimal impact to the teachers themselves.

How much worse would it be if the teach-to-the-test incentive was "afford a new car"?


I'm guessing less worse than the incentive to do the minimum amount possible knowing you're going to get a pay raise regardless.

We can change the test if it's not measuring the right thing (we should do that anyway regardless of it's use for teacher measurement). Test scores are what parents, universities, etc. measure the performance of children by, we shouldn't have a double standard of having one metric for children and another for those who teach them.


Imo, universities measuring applicants mainly by test scores is a bad thing, done only because they can't find a better way to do it, but I'd hardly want to subordinate all of education to that. K-12 education should teach kids useful stuff, meta-learning habits, civic information, attempt to inspire them, etc., not solely aim to maximize their SAT scores. To the extent I found K-12 education useful at all, it was only the parts that weren't narrowly aiming at maximizing my test scores, so it'd be a shame to declare those irrelevant and ditch them.

Plus, universities do take some other things into account. I got significant credit on my university applications for an open-source project I worked on in high school, and a website I maintained (in the late 90s websites weren't exactly rare, but it wasn't yet to the "everyone has a blog" level of pervasiveness). Will a teacher who successfully inspires kids to do that sort of extracurricular stuff get credit in these evaluation schemes?

Alternatively, if you consider preparing kids for college to be the sole purpose of K-12 education, why not just measure it directly? For 2nd-grade teachers it would be difficult to measure due to the large time lag, but it'd be possible for high-school teachers. Instead of the state inventing its own tests, just use the % of students who go on to college as the metric, and then do some statistical analysis over a 5-year window to estimate the effect a particular teacher had on that rate. There are a lot of variables and each student is influenced by many teachers, but over a window you can make an estimate of whether a particular teacher had any influence (positive or negative) on college-admission rates, compared to a hypothetical average teacher of the same subject and of a hypothetically equivalent set of students (according to whatever demographic/etc. variables). A teacher version of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_over_replacement_player, basically.


> K-12 education should teach kids useful stuff, meta-learning habits, civic information, attempt to inspire them, etc., not solely aim to maximize their SAT scores

I agree AND I'm willing to pay for that to happen.

However, I'm not willing to pay for teachers who don't teach that stuff. Are you?

So, how do you propose determining whether we're getting what we're paying for?

Note - if your answer is "trust us", my response is "not with my money".


This might sound trite, but I think the solution would be to couple standardized testing with performance based pay. Unlike code, it's hard to aim for solely short-term gains. As long as teachers aren't cheating, I can't imagine many ways to teach students that aren't inherently beneficial to the student. Teaching better study habits, etc might not be directly related to their material, but it still helps the students.

Also, I think there are fairly generalizable development timelines for children. While standardized testing can never be a gold standard in determining progress, I think we can both agree such testing does measure a worthwhile metric. I would definitely agree that there are edge cases, both in terms of individual students and in terms of school districts, but linking pay with progress seems on face value to be a good idea. That, plus independent school districts, is system-based evolution. Such selection depends on creating the right relationship between effort and reward.


The argument against standard test scores as the metric is that it covers two basic competencies, reading and mathematics. Which are of course fundamental but there are edge cases of people who have no interest in those fields but would prefer foreign languages, arts, etc. Teachers in the arts can inspire and help provide to students but don't have any standardized evaluation method.

Plus for students who are younger where one teacher teaches all subjects, the focus on mathematics/reading will increase compared to arts. The arts education significantly reduced during No Child Left Behind b/c of the requirements.

You can obviously argue that competency in basics should be achieved before arts too though. Just pointing out an issue


We can't have standardized foreign language or art tests?


Foreign language yes, but art? I could memorize a bunch of facts about art, styles, etc. But that's not the same as doing well in the class. I could be a brilliant artist who learned a lot in the class because the teacher motivated me but I have no idea what the difference between penciling vs stenciling. (I have no knowledge of art, I just said that example as something that sounds similar but could be very different).


Most education in art focuses on the technical and contextual (history, styles, etc) aspects. The contextual aspects lend themselves quite well to standardized testing.

The technical aspects don't lend themselves very well to a "fill in the bubbles" test, but that doesn't mean they are subjective. Testing them would be more difficult, but it is routinely done.


>I think we can both agree such testing does measure a worthwhile metric.

I don't know about that. I've come across plenty of critiques of standardized tests, especially back during the debate over Bush's 'No Child Left Behind' initiative.

That kind of 'education' may produce good little worker drones, but I'm not sure it's something we want to base the entire education system of the Republic on.


In many cases, you will get better short-term results by drilling recipes or factoids than pursuing deep understanding, though the latter is far more valuable in the long run (and in early schooling, long is the only run that matters). There's too much trivia-memorizing in schools as it is.


I'm OK with paying a drill sergeant more than someone who sits around the teacher's lounge eating donuts all day.

I'm not saying this approach is a panacea to all of education's problems, I'm just saying this is a step in the right direction. I think the question this approach answers is the disconnect between effort and reward in education.


Regarding 2), you do it via Value Added Modeling. You build a statistical predictor of student performance (based on standardized test scores) then measure Performance = Avg(Actual - predicted).


> You build a statistical predictor of student performance (based on standardized test scores) then measure Performance = Avg(Actual - predicted).

And then you watch student performance get gamed by the teachers. There are all kinds of ways: turn a blind eye to cheating, move poor performers to others schools (including by getting them to graduate when they shouldn't), alter their tests (this is already being done under NCLB according to several news reports), ...

You're better off by having skilled teachers rate the other teachers. People aren't as easily gamed as systems of rules are.


Easy solutions to your problems: "turn a blind eye to cheating" "alter their tests"

Tests are given by independent proctors and designed by an independent agency. In much the same way, the DOD rates Halliburton's performance - it's not great, but it's better than Halliburton doing their own performance ratings.

move poor performers to others schools (including by getting them to graduate when they shouldn't)

Won't help with VAM. If you get rid of the poor performers, the predicted value of the people remaining will increase. Thus, you just made your job higher - the bar has been raised.

People aren't as easily gamed as systems of rules are.

I don't even know how to respond to this.


Your solution to fix education is to do things the way Haliburton & the DOD do?

Yes, independent ratings can help, but at some point, if you can't trust anyone inside the system, you're screwed. And your results are exactly as good (or bad) as your ability to do ratings. Fancy math won't fixed a flawed premise, for example.

We've been going for complex systems and simple people. Having good people and relatively simple systems, however, is the optimum from what I can see.

I'm not opposed to the idea that accountability is needed, but the idea that you can go up to a troubled institution, make everyone's job harder, and then expect improvement is unrealistic in any industry. I'm not a teacher, but I've seen the effects of management like that first hand.

Always taking the easy solution when managing something is not effective.

>> People aren't as easily gamed as systems of rules are. > I don't even know how to respond to this.

Obviously, I thought it implicit that I was talking about competent and experienced folks. Yes, if you get people who know nothing and put them in charge, you will have terrible results. They won't improve even if you give them a long list of rules to follow, which is how bureaucracy usually ends up.


Your solution to fix education is to do things the way Haliburton & the DOD do?

Would you prefer to do things the way the educational system does? Throw money at Halliburton and hope for the best? No outside auditors or performance measurements?


I thought I just said that I would prefer to hire highly competent teachers to do the evaluations. Not third parties, not politicians, and certainly not Haliburton or the DOD.

Those who are competent ought to be able to recognize each other.


This makes sense but suggests that we need to simultaneously invest in better standardized tests. The most common standardized tests we have today make for poor year-round curricula.


I'm always in favor of better standardized tests -- who isn't? -- but one handy thing about value-added modeling is that if you use the same flawed tests, you should get similar outcomes: if a kid is in the 10th percentile of his class when he starts his sophomore year and the 20th when he ends, as measured by similar tests, then he's progressed.


Objection. The kid may have improved specifically in his ability to score well on a specific standardized test, and in no other way. And meanwhile, the process that delivered that superficial improvement could have immeasurably harmed other students who might have otherwise genuinely excelled.


If your point is that standardized tests have problems, then I agree. But I don't see any other way of gathering some kind of data, and, as far as I know, no proponents of using standardized tests -- including Gates -- want to use them solely to evaluate teachers.

But if you had a kid, and you had two teachers, both of whom regularly got classes in the 50th percentile, and one teacher regularly had kids leave in the 40th percentile, the other in the 60th, which would you want? In fact, L.A. is already now in effect conducting the experiment: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-teachers-value-20100... and parents are responding accordingly -- for good reason.

Your concerns are valid, but they are mostly misguided if the alternative to them is "doing what we're doing now." See here: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/08... for more; "We cannot simultaneously claim, however, that teachers are vitally important for the future of our children and also that their effectiveness should not be measured." Also see the list of education-related articles I compiled here: http://jseliger.com/2009/11/12/susan-engel-doesnt-get


If your argument is that we should purse some kind of standardized metric for teaching effectiveness, and that it might take the form of a standardized test, I'm with you.

If your argument is "nothing could be worse than the way it is today", I strongly disagree. More than 70% of Americans are satisfied (or better) with their own local school. High-stakes testing can easily make schools worse by disrupting curricula and damaging incentives for teachers. If we're going to focus our efforts on the school systems that are in crisis, there are probably better interventions.

Measuring teacher effectiveness is a real problem that needs real work, but in the interim, primum non nocere.


Is there a study that shows that scoring well on standardized tests does NOT reflect real learning? Perhaps there is, but... There is a lot rhetoric to the effect that "scoring well on tests just means you are good at taking tests", but (1) there is nothing wrong with getting good at taking tests, and (2) are we sure?

Also, the process MAY or MAY not have harmed other students -- there is no reason to believe it would, that I can tell -- again, please respond if there is.


Yes. Numerous ones. In particular, "high-stakes" middle school standardized tests (of the NCLB variety) appear to correlate negatively with ACT/SAT performance (a test that actually matters).


Actually, percentiles are not such a great way to measure progress, it's just relative. What we should measure is something more like earned value- did he progress more or less than one year of material forward? That way, kids who are two years behind and two years ahead all get measured on how fast they are moving, not where they started.


Statistical forward looking models proposed by a guy who works in finance?

How could that ever go wrong :)

EDIT: More seriously, if it's already impossible to measure, I fail to see how more complicated metrics would do anything but do an even worse job of measuring. There might be exceptions to this rule in a few cases but it's generally the way things work.


The VAM metric (which is not very complicated) measures teacher performance by excluding student quality as a causative factor.

If you have low quality students, who are only expected to score at the 25% level, and you boost them up to 35%, you win. If you have high quality students expected to reach 75%, but the only achieve 65%, you lose. Do you believe it's really that hard to predict that Asian kids in 2 parent $250k/year+ households will score higher than black kids in 1 grandparent $10-20k/year households?

If you truly believe the effects of education are immeasurable, perhaps we should stop wasting money on it. We don't spend $859 billion on homeopathy for much the same reason.


Well, I'm pretty sure they're already doing something similar to that. And you consistently hear the best teachers complaining that by teaching to the test they're doing a worse job of teaching.

Developer productivity is really hard to measure with universal statistics -- every attempt to do so has failed miserably and usually made things worse. Does that mean that nobody should spend money on development?


You should not hire developers if they have no measurable effect on your software quality/feature set/P&L.

Incidentally, measuring developers is done routinely. Every bank (except maybe Citi) has a set of procedures and guidelines for outsourced development. These procedures make the process fairly predictable and they reduce costs/dependencies.

Much like outsourced IT, teaching is repetitive grunt work. It can and should be defined and measured.


Yeah, but the procedures are basically a whole bunch of subjective stuff added up. "Ok we're dividing this task into these subtasks, we're gonna put a deadline on each one and if you miss too many deadlines then we need to talk". That's way more fuzzy and subjective than a standardized test. You might sum up the subjective judgments in a quantitative way, but ultimately it's built on subjective assessments. Unless they're actually doing kloc or something.


This has been proven to not work (or work very poorly). Can supply references if you'd like.


If we really cared, we could increase the quality of teaching beyond all recognition. It wouldn't be remotely difficult.

Massively increase pay for teachers, tripling or quadrupling pay at every level. Mandate a specific postgraduate qualification and a statutory minimum of continuing professional development. Recruit only the best and the brightest, specifically seeking out graduates from the best universities. Advertise teaching as a career on prime-time television. Put Obama on The Daily Show and Oprah to talk about the importance of teaching. In short, a concerted effort to make teaching every bit as prestigious as law or medicine. After a few years, require every teacher in the country to reapply for their own job. Relative to the Military or Social Security budgets, the cost would barely even register on the balance sheet.

We could quite easily live in a world where Asian parents push their kids into teaching, where Yale and Harvard vie to be the best school of education, where teaching is seen as a first choice rather than a last resort.

We don't, because we don't really care. We pretend that education matters, but really it's one of those things that you're supposed to care about but most people don't, like the environment or human rights. We don't care whether college students learn anything, only that they get a suitably prestigious certificate. We don't care whether high school graduates can meaningfully participate in society, only that they can pass the standardised tests, whatever they might be.

It is practically self-evident that we don't care about teaching. We all know that the current system is failing, but we aren't prepared to do the obvious things that would actually rescue it. For as long as we see education in the abstract as high status but teaching in practice as low status, we are doomed to watch our school system circle the drain.


Relative to the Military or Social Security budgets, the cost would barely even register on the balance sheet.

WTF? We already spent more on education than the military ($859B > $731B, circa 2008, 2009 numbers not available yet). If we tripled spending, education would be bigger than SS, military, medicare and medicaid combined. Unless you are Paul Krugman, I think that level of spending would register on the balance sheet.

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/

Further, teachers are already paid roughly as well as engineers (per month worked, not per calendar year). See this thread for details:

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1673075

Further, do you have evidence that our "best and brightest" would provide significantly better education than the people we get now? Going by pay/education level, I probably qualify as best and brightest. But I wasn't a great teacher at all.


I dunno how they were calculated, but the education vs. military spending numbers you quote are really out of whack.

For education vs. military (dod + homeland security), I see the following from different sources:

  [1] reports 45.4 billion vs. 660.6 billion
  [2] reports ~100 billion vs. ~700 billion
  [3] reports 157 billion vs. 895 billion
  [4] reports 89.4 billion vs. 544.5 billion
Your source is clearly an outlier.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_United_States_federal_budg...

[2] http://www.federalbudget.com/

[3] http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/budget_pie_gs.php?span=u...

[4] http://www.usaspending.gov/explore?carryfilters=on


Education is provided by state and local governments. Your sources are all federal. Mine adds up federal, state and local numbers.

Military spending is also negligible if we focus only on city government. So what?


WTF? You are extremely recklessly wrong and should be ashamed of it...

We actually spend about 70 billion on education. If you look at this department of education's website, you can find a .pdf or excel sheet of the actual budget. It is here:

http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/history/index.html

If you look at the department of defense's website here: http://comptroller.defense.gov/budget.html

You will notice that its budget is around 700 billion. (Meaning we could multiply the DoE's budget by 10 and be about equal). That is just DoD, and does not include departments like homeland security or the FBI.

I will probably get down-voted for this comment, but seriously, check your fucking sources, check their biases, and go to any primary sources available. Don't just click the first link out of Google machine.

This is a clear failing of the education system, as you should have been taught this before exiting high school!

Government expenditures are quite obviously freely available...

There is no need to go to a '.com' website for them. If you actually see who is behind the site: 'http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/.

The proprietor of your cited source (Christopher Chantrill), has a notable political bias.

http://www.christopherchantrill.com/

Going by your research ability, I'd say you aren't the best and aren't that bright.


We actually spend about 70 billion on education.

You have a very narrow definition of "we", which apparently only includes the federal government. It's true - if you focus solely on the branch of government which is not responsible for education, you find low spending on education.

Also, Chantrill may be biased, but he also cites his sources. Specifically, the census and the CBO. I refer to his site because he combines both state and federal numbers.


I once made $7000 for 30 minutes work. By your argument, I'm paid roughly as well as a top athlete (per minute worked, not per calendar year).

The problem, of course, is that was a one-time opportunity. I can't get 30-minute intervals at will that pay anything remotely like that.


The problem, of course, is that was a one-time opportunity. I can't get 30-minute intervals at will that pay anything remotely like that.

Teachers can regularly get 9 months of 37 hour weeks that pay quite well. It's not a one-time opportunity.


37 Hour weeks plus time spend prepping for classes, and time spend correcting homework, and time spend helping students after school, plus time spent giving makeup exams ... I was a teacher. I worked way more than the 7-4 that class was in session. That's like saying professional football players only work for 3 hours a week.


37 hours total, averaged over all full time teachers. Sorry, should have been more clear. This includes work done at home (e.g., grading).

http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2008/03/art4full.pdf

You might have done more work, but you were above average.


1. Those stats are from 2003. New programs (especially No Child Left Behind) have caused a lot of teachers to have to put in a lot more hours (of pointless work).

2. Any truly dedicated and correctly-focused teacher I would imagine would have to spend more hours per week, talking to parents, spending extra time with students, research, etc.


Documentation is pointless work? I think doctors, the highest-paying profession, would disagree.


Documentation isn't pointless, but pointless documentation is pointless. If the documentation at any point would turn around to improve on the teacher effectiveness or student learning (and have a specific focus on that), it would make sense, but if the documentation goes into a random folder far away to never return in any form (from my experience) it doesn't help much.


But engineers (who you compared them to on a per month basis) regularly get 12 months of work, so they aren't comparable.


> Further, teachers are already paid roughly as well as engineers (per month worked, not per calendar year). See this thread for details:

For certain rather extreme and wide definitions of "roughly". :) Part-time Kindergarten teachers != community college professors != Harvard professors. Pretty wide range of pay there. Whereas engineers always pay pretty damn good, and don't have to babysit children.


We don't revolutionize teaching because TENURE AND SENIORITY RULES ARE LOCKED DOWN BY THE UNIONS.

Want to revolutionize teaching (and save some money)? Break the unions and fire the worst 10% of the teaching staff. Then do it again next year.

(Edit: we really DO care about teaching, and spend enormous amounts of tax payers dollars and collective worry on it.)


The Unions are only part of the problem. You want to fire the shitty teachers, right? I'm all for that. Unfortunately, this is only a PARTIAL solution. You also need to be able to fire the shitty administrators (see below). AND you need to be able to "fire" the shitty students (troublemakers).

The school administrations are often composed of transient "revolving door" bureaucrats whose only goal is to pad their resumes with bullet-points of dubious changes that they implemented. * Administrators will frequently alter programs ("we do physics in 11th grade? Well we're doing it in 9th grade now!") simply to demonstrate that they've made a difference. * They will place weak students in classes where they don't belong just to maintain the appearance that they are serving a useful function ("Sure X failed biology and he'll be lucky to get into community college, but I'm recommending that he take chemistry b/c it looks good on his transcript"). * They will protect troublesome students to the detriment of other students ("You can't keep X out of class all the time. You're just going to have to learn to control him")

Students and Parents are as much of the problem as the teachers and the administration: There is often a pervasive attitude of entitlement without any effort amongst the students and their parents. Troublesome students are allowed to ruin the learning environment for everyone else. In an ideal world, you could kick those students out of class (or school), but in reality you can't (see ADMINISTRATION).

Amusing--but not uncommon--anecdote: My cousin is a high-school teacher who had a student who continuously disrupted one of her classes. She finally phoned the student's mother to tell her about her son's attitude problem. The mother responded with:

"Look...I don't call you to complain when he misbehaves at home. So, don't call me up because he's misbehaving on YOUR time."

That's not the union's fault, is it?


Unions are a problem, but not the only one. The biggest problem (in my opinion) is how kooky the teaching education establishment is. This messes up teacher training, and worse, messes up the curriculum and gives the education bureaucrats terrible advice. The text book factories love it (for the churn it creates), but nobody else benefits.


Good point. I would only say that in the long term, the parents' and kids' alienation from the system as a whole is partly the fault of the system. A lot of schools in working class areas SUCK -- everybody knows it and feels stuck with it, so why would they feel like they should play along with the teachers when they call?

Really, I just want to be able to fire the sucky teachers and administrators. I am really a downright socialist (with free enterprise a necessary evil that must be vigorously contained); I hate to be arguing against unions.


> Want to revolutionize teaching (and save some money)? Break the unions and fire the worst 10% of the teaching staff. Then do it again next year.

That only works if you're good at recognizing the bottom 10% and have tight anti-cheating controls. Otherwise, things will go straight to hell. Also, you're neglecting the fact that it'll destroy cooperation among the teachers, because it turns things into a "it's either him or me, and it's not going to be me" scenario. Neither effect is conductive to a better or more effective school environment.

While the idea of firing bad teachers has a lot of merit, handling it in such a way is a terrible idea. That's the sort of quick fix bad managers come up with and one of the ways bad managers can help destroy an entire organization.

But it's a lot easier to give out fixes like these than it is to understand problems, so such ideas are remarkably prevalent. That probably explains why the change X by Y% mentality is lampooned in so many Dilbert cartoons.


Hehe... I just thought of this: I bet there is easily a consensus between parents and peers on the suckiest 5% for most schools in the US today. When it actually becomes hard to all agree on the suckiest 1 out of 20, we probably would be a long way toward better schools.


A woman I work with's daughter just started school this year. She decided to send her to a private school because if she went to the public school she would be one of only a handful of white children. She didn't want her daughter to "grow up feeling like a minority".

We live in Boston, there are plenty of white people here. She lives in the same neighborhood as the mayor of Boston. There are plenty of white people there. Why are there so few white people in that public school? She had no opinion about the actual education provided by either school. Just that all the white kids go to the private school, and all the not-white kids go to the public school.

I wonder if that public school would rank as one of the "suckiest" schools. It seems like (white) people are voting that way with their pocketbooks.


Though it's not popular to talk about it, there are cultural differences between races, as a general rule -- especially regarding attitudes towards education, ambition, work and success.


You mean differences between socio-economic strata. It's not popular to talk about so-called 'cultural differences' between races because it's the wrong way to talk about it.


why is it wrong?


Incorrect would be the more precise term. The distribution of race/ethnicity across class is historical, not structural. In other words, no matter where you go, the lower class is always described as possessing ineffectual "attitudes towards education, ambition, work and success". It's rather uninformed to suggest these are inherent "cultural" attitudes rather than the conditioning of being on the bottom.


I never said it was inherent. I just said there are clearly cultural differences across races [meaning in the US today.] This is not a unique position held only by me. There are plenty of black people, for example, who will openly talk about this, including Bill Cosby and Thomas Sowell, among others. Although on a separate point I'd say it's not 100% proven that somehow all failure or imperfection on the part of black Americans, to take one just group, is solely the fault of feeling oppressed, or having suffered from a history of oppression or being a minority or "on the bottom." Some of it may just be due to the results of personal choices and personal behavior and willpower. It's almost shocking to me that I have to suggest this with such caution and delicacy.


>I never said it was inherent.

No, you didn't. Forgive my use of the word to describe your position but perhaps you'll see what I had in mind when I did.

>I just said there are clearly cultural differences across races [meaning in the US today.]

So a lower class black participates in the same culture as an upper middle-class black? (anecdotal: I sure as hell don't) A lower-class white shares culturally with middle-class whites? In "attitudes towards education, ambition, work and success" no less (which is what your brought up cultural difference with regard to)? Perhaps the wording of your claim is leading my astray, but as it's written it's not very defensible and can only make sense once your inject it with a vertical register, socio-economic status, good ol' fashioned class relations.

>There are plenty of black people, for example, who will openly talk about this, including Bill Cosby and Thomas Sowell, among others.

Irrelevant.

>Although on a separate point I'd say it's not 100% proven that somehow all failure or imperfection on the part of black Americans, to take one just group, is solely the fault of feeling oppressed, or having suffered from a history of oppression or being a minority or "on the bottom." Some of it may just be due to the results of personal choices and personal behavior and willpower.

Personal choices? Personal behavior and willpower? Sure. Now are you willing to scale that explanation uniformly across an entire sector of the population? Unless you're going to defend something very improbable, you have to explore more comprehensive causalities. The latter don't have to directly do with anything, but can and do mediate every other intersecting relation of cause.


Small note, but can we say 'groups' rather than 'races?' Attitudes are not formed with skin pigment.


Why haven't the unions been broken? Nobody would tolerate unions that protected incompetent lawyers or doctors. Union-breaking is practically a science these days, it's neither expensive nor difficult, especially against a workforce with no ability to mount a meaningfully disruptive strike. It appears to me that there simply isn't the political will to do it. The teaching unions make more noise than parents and students, so they win. We return to my basic thesis, that we don't care as much about education as we'd like to think.

If you just fire the worst 10% every year, you just make teaching less attractive. As it stands, teaching is sufficiently low-status, poorly paid and unpleasant that the only people who go into it are a rare few who really want to teach and a majority who aren't competent enough to do anything else. You can't just fire bad teachers, you need to recruit good ones. For the moment, only a martyr or an idiot would decide to teach.


Who has an incentive to work against public unions? Public unions operate in a monopoly for which one business can not be undercut. And after all, public unions vote.


The 85% of us who don't belong to the teachers unions should vote against them. Unfortunately, the teachers unions have the democratic party in their pocket, and I am sure as hell never going to vote for today's republican party (yuck!).


Your estimate got me wondering what the true number is. I would guess it is a little low for non-teacher's union employees. But considering that government unions generally cooperate to form an oligarchy; from a few searches I find there are 25 million Americans directly employed by federal, state, and local governments. There are 15 million Americans who's is directly paid by government contracts. There are about 140 million Americans in the labor force, so we have 2/7 ~ 28% of the labor force directly dependent upon government.


I just meant for teachers unions, not all unions.

I am a government employee, btw, and I would happily vote against teachers unions (if I could vote issue-by-issue, not representative-by-representative)


They did have some success with getting the unions to make these kinds of concessions in D.C. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405270230336240457558..., allowing the schools to cut under-performing teachers instead of having to make cuts solely based on seniority.

Unfortunately, it looks like those efforts are stalled at the moment due to the mayor losing his re-election bid.

I agree with you though, the unions are a huge part of the problem with the education system in the U.S.


The answer is completely obvious - because the teachers unions are not actually the problem with the US education system. They are just a convenient scapegoat for some people to demonize.


Several teachers in my family - none of them would agree with you.


why?


The unions? That's your bad guy here? Teachers are poorly-paid and looked-down-upon in our society and you are blaming the only organization which sticks up for them? The unions suck, certainly, but firing teachers only works if there is a ready supply of quality replacements. Plus, if you remove the perk of job security, you are going to have to significantly increase teacher pay to compensate.

Even worse than this, you assume that we have a good way of measuring teacher quality. The unions are a red herring.


Teachers aren't particularly poorly paid -- they make about 45k a year with summers off (that is the country wide salary, the median elementary school teacher salary in San Jose is 65k) and potentially have a great job (when a class is good, teaching is a joy as long as enough easy kids balance the hard ones).

The joyfulness is really important -- private school teachers make shit, but teaching there is great fun and often doesn't require the utterly ridiculous credentialling process of the public schools.

Sure, we're not talking attorney or registered nurse salaries here, but we aren't talking attorney/ nurse student loans or pressure either. No blood, no lawsuits, no ambulance chasing.

Like I say, if the kids are good, teaching is something you would do for free.

Oh -- parents are part of the problem, I will admit. I sort of blame crappy teachers and adminsistrators for creating an environment in which a lot of kids and parents feel alienated from the process. If you don't buy into the process, which requires hard, often unpleasant work, the whole thing goes to hell. But it should be the educators who are on the frontlines of fixing the lazy, fun-only fucked up culture that is the USA.


you talkin about this $45 like it means something. All the teachers i know get very little supplies, and end up having to purchase their own paper , or even BOOKS.. seriously..

$45K is a pittance for what these teachers deal with in a city like Baltimore.


You can get a R.N. degree at a community college in three or four years. Getting a job at as a teacher requires just as much education plus certification, which usually requires a bachelor's degree plus additional classes plus a bunch of student teaching.


Yeah, but for R.N. classes you probably actually have to study. ;)


And that right there is half the problem. Of course, with the low salaries for teachers, all the best talent would rather work hard at something that pays well, so both the degree and the salaries would have to be changed in concert.


You don't really have to worry about firing the worst 10% ... how about keeping the good teachers?

http://www.ncsu.edu/mentorjunction/text_files/teacher_retent...

"In 1999, for example, our schools hired 232,000 teachers who had not been teaching the year before (i.e., new teachers hired who were not simply moving from one school to another). But the schools lost more than 287,000 teachers who left for other occupations that year—55,000 more than they hired"

If we have/discover the ability to tell the good teachers from the bad, then we should just start hiring only the good teachers. Eventually the good will out number the bad and maybe even teach the bad teachers a thing or two)

Maybe instead of firing the bottom 10%, we should "improve" them. It's either that or replace them. Of course, you could very well be replacing them with someone just as bad or worse.


The unions would happily cancel much of the seniority rules for an over 2x raise of salary.


If union voters have the same distribution of that of public voters, then the most active and vocal will be those with retirement in mind. I think it would be hard sell to get these voters to agree to a change that will immediately affect their near-term future.


The current pay for teaching is already astronomical, although admittedly entry level pay is poor and benefits only come with some seniority.

To enumerate what needs to be considered in pay, 1. 100% health care coverage for individuals and families. 2. Vacation on top of all major holidays off. 3. Teachers have student loan forgiveness of 100% after 5 years of seniority. 4. They need not pay social security instead leverage a percentage into private fund. 5. By the rule of 90 can retire at 56 with 80% pay for the rest of their lives, not just to social security age. 6. Health care benefits are extended through retirement on top of medicare. 7. Annual pay raise regardless of individual or district wide performance 8. Immediate pay increases for graduate study or other "improvement" 9. Employment that is not geographically limited 10. 8 months of work, during which attendance is only required 5 days a week from 7-4.


My mother's a public school teacher in Indiana and only some of these benefits are familiar sounding to me. Perhaps I just haven't been paying attention. Do you have any sources for these claims?


To start:

For the rule of 90: http://www.mnpera.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={079559...

For salary increased this year and over last ten: http://teacherportal.com/salary/Minnesota-teacher-salary


You might be interested in this UK charity that was covered on BBC Radio 4 last week:

http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/TFHome/index.aspx

They take high flying graduates from top Universities and "fast tracks" them into teaching jobs in "challenging" schools. The idea being that the graduates teach for at least two years and then go on to other things with the support of the charity.

I guess just exposing young kids to people who have the drive to succeed at a top university gives them a completely different perspective on what is possible.


Modelled on the excellent Teach For America program no doubt.


Yeah, sure. New York spends a ridiculous amount on education and is bottom of the pack in performance. My sister makes $85k as a teacher, and will retire making $105k on the current scale, with a pension of $65k after that.


I wish there was less focus on teachers, and more focus on fixing the problem of how badly kids fall behind before they ever get to school.

The battle is IMO largely won and lost in years 0-5, before kids even reach 1st grade. That's why programs like "Baby College" in Harlem are so important.

Even when kids do reach school age, the work of teachers is either amplified or underminded by parents.

My wife teaches 2nd grade (in a poor, needy school district), and frankly, the hours a day she has them can't undo the failure of parents in the kid's early development, nor overcome the constant sabotage of parents undoing much of the day's progress.

Yes, there are bad teachers. But good teachers can badly struggle due to no fault of their own. One teacher may go from superstar metrics to really poor numbers, based on the luck of the draw.

The point is, if you really want to improve education, you have to start in the home, in early childhood.


The battle is IMO largely won and lost in years 0-5, before kids even reach 1st grade. That's why programs like "Baby College" in Harlem are so important.

Head Start was designed precisely to solve this problem. It has existed for 40 years and hasn't solved it, for the kinds of reasons that are described here: http://epa.sagepub.com/content/17/1/62.abstract and here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=226111 . People have been trying to show that Head Start leads to longitudinal improvements for the entirety of Head Start's existence, and they've failed. I work in my family's business as a grant writing consultant, and we've had a bunch of clients running Head Start programs and Head Start clones. They don't work.

In short, you're advocating for an approach here that has already (mostly) failed. Gates is at least saying that we shouldn't keep rewarding teachers for things (seniority, degrees) that don't actually impact student achievement.


No, what I'm talking about is absolutely not Head Start.

The students of Head Start are preschool children.

The students of Baby College are parents. It's about teaching people how to be parents.

When the problem is that bad parenting sabotages structured education, the answer isn't to start the education earlier. The answer (well, at least part of it) is to improve the parents.


Our "education" model is fundamentally broken. It's based on the idea that we need to warehouse kids in institutions modeled on 18th century factories so that they can do well on "standardized" tests. Certainly Bill Gates did not obtain his education this way. He basically educated himself by following his passion from an early age. He working in his field of choice at the age of 15. By 20 he had founded Microsoft.

"School" for Bill Gates was his educated home environment, the block of computer time he could use in 8th grade, the Computer Center Corporation where he worked while in high school, and his projects with Paul Allen as a teenager. It was the unstructured resources that were around him.

Not every kid is a Bill Gates. Most probably need less formal instruction because they do not need as much abstract knowledge.

Schools as they exist today should be abolished and the teachers and other staff that work in them should be taken off the public payrolls and allowed to take useful jobs in the private sector.

Schools, to the extent that they exist at all, should be more like graduate study where an advisor suggests resources for further study. These advisors could be unpaid volunteers. People with successful careers in areas of that the student is interested in who interact with the student intermittently perhaps over the internet.

The bulk of kids' time should be spent in projects or actual work, apprentice-style, in an area of their interest. Instead of being grouped together in dysfunctional groups of their own kind, young people should be distributed in the economy, working with and under the supervision of competent adults in the various fields.


Schools as they exist today should be abolished and the teachers and other staff that work in them should be taken off the public payrolls and allowed to take useful jobs in the private sector.

Have you worked as a teacher or in front of a classroom? I ask because I might've been sympathetic to these kinds of views before I started grad school at the University of Arizona. Most students in grades K - 16 are not going to do intensive projects or actual work; many of them simply aren't ready to do so. Most students in most subjects are there because they need the spur and structure school provides.

This is true even at very high levels; how many people would actually write a dissertation if not for the fact that they'd already spent several years in grad school, that their professional lives depend on it, and they'll look like a fool if they don't? Hell, even with those constraints, there are a shockingly high number of ABDs floating around out there.

Schools, to the extent that they exist at all, should be more like graduate study where an advisor suggests resources for further study. These advisors could be unpaid volunteers.

This is insane. It does not scale. If volunteers did a better job of educating than the system we have now, no one would send their kids to mediocre public schools.

All of your ideas are wildly utopian, and I don't mean that in a good way. There is no practical way to implement them.


My favorite recent quote:

We all know that successful teaching beyond the infant class involves (a) wide and detailed knowledge of a difficult subject, (b) an enthusiasm for the subject which communicates itself to the class, and (c) a few simple tricks of the trade, learnt by anyone from a single volume and from about three weeks of experience. The art of the Educationalizer is to expand (c) into a mass of pretentious nonsense, fogged by technical terms and psychological twaddle. To do research in Educationalization is to forget about (a) and (b) and make the mastery of (c) seem practically impossible. Those who can, do (it has been said), and those who cannot will teach teachers how to teach other teachers the art of teaching. This is the brotherhood of the Ed.D. and it forms a sort of campus with the campus; an enclave, as it were, of people committed to the study of nothing.

Peter's Predicament, Chapter 7, The Fur-Lined Mousetrap, C. Northcote Parkinson, Leviathan House Ltd, London & New York, ISBN 0 900537 05 I, no date (really!).

(If you ask me, eliminate tenure, break the teacher's unions, and fire the least performing 5% each year measured by before and after tests each year; with 5% yearly "mortality" we could use turnover to retain the good ones. And yes, eliminate pay raises based on continuing education and seniority, neither of which measure teacher effectiveness.

I think knowing how to make a teacher good is an impossible problem, but knowing whether a teacher is good or not is not very difficult, using a combination of peer and parent review plus before-and-after test scores.

But first ... break the unions and eliminate tenure and any special protection for teachers. I am totally pro-union when it comes to janitors and factory workers, but not managerial level staff; at best, it reinforces consistent mediocrity...)


In our current system, peer review is very difficult, and parent review is even more difficult. Parent review is difficult because a) parents don't interact with teachers much and b) any teacher flunking a parent's child will often rate the teacher poorly.

What's being talked about here isn't revolutionizing - it's altering an already very broken system.

What I can foresee happening is the stuff you talk about going forward, and missing out on the 10 other things that need to happen to make it actually successful and so being an abject failure as a result. The other things that need to happen as to make any of this successful are (and which are more important imho): work the system to get communities and parents more involved, change the grading system, change the perspective on the purpose of standardized tests, change focus of classroom subjects, teacher purpose/focus, student purpose, etc.)


So if a class if students decides to throw the exam they can get the teacher fired? Sort of a middle school cousin of jury nullification.


There is little possibility of an entire class jeopardizing their entire future and graduation prospects in order to make one of their educators look bad. Also, you are suggesting that such malicious act would not be detected, and there would be no safe-guards against such an act?


I think there should be some check on this, but if a class decides to throw the exam in order to screw the teacher, the teacher probably sucks.

Also, if each students score is part of their record, there is an incentive to not throw the test even if the teacher is hated.


It would suck for the folks who paid tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege to teach in states like New York where a graduate degree is mandatory for public school teachers.

It's going to take almost two decades for the master's "bonus" to cover the cost of my wife's graduate degree.


Well if the degree was worthwhile, they will get the bonuses for doing well and still be OK. Otherwise what are we paying for?


Bonuses for doing well? That's crazy... (and not an option under the current system)


If times were good and budgets were flush you can be sure reform proponents would suggest using the excess capital to grandfather the old systems in and support the new ones.

However, that's not the case we're in right now. That doesn't mean it won't change in the future. It's also possible (likely?) that reformers' strategy for lean times will be less successful than the strategy for times of excess. Only time will tell!


If a graduate degree is mandatory, why is there a bonus? Can't they raise the base?


Beats me. There is definitely a column on the pay scale for a graduate degree though.


Hence the scare quotes on bonus I think


Surely there are other benefits of the masters degree over the small amount of additional annual wage?


This response comes via the Washington Post, and offers sourced rebuttals/refinements:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/guest-bloggers...

Also: while I've got a world of respect for Bill Gates and his philanthropic efforts, I'm not sure that he's the most qualified to discuss education reform.

I'm certainly down with schools restructuring their budgets, but there's wasted money all over the place, and even if we got rid of seniority and degrees as a means of determining salary, it's unreasonable to think that that $59 billion would be spent only on the students, or that it would be trimmed entirely.

Even if we switch to a system of merit pay, that money has to come from somewhere.

Again, loads of respect for Mr. Gates, and full agreement that budgets should be overhauled, but it's gonna take more than just cutting out seniority-based pay.


Seems like the post article just wants to belabor a point Bill Gates did not actually make.

The points he did make, actually agree with the article's sources, but he does not reach the same overall conclusion. He did explicitly say that seniority matters and that the difference peters out mostly after ~5 years (he put a graph on the screen with sources). He mentioned other metrics should be applied as well, but did not specify exactly what the metrics should be (whereas this article concentrates on test scores as if he presented that as the only valid metric).

Gates minor conclusion is the reasonable one... seniority does matter, but not as much after a certain period of time, therefore it cannot be used as the only method of assessment. Furthermore, seniority is a rather indirect measure of competence. I don't see the opposing view as being arguable with a clear conscience, frankly.

And, in fact, if you listen to the speech, he does not state budgets as a priority -- yes, an obstacle to be overcome, but not the focus. The focus is in better outcomes.


End capitalist bonuses based on currency accumulation and seniority.


This is all just fantasy sports of course, but here's my plan.

I would require new teachers to work as apprentices for quite some time (several years) and not pay them very much during this period. After that, if they accede to full status, I would pay them a great deal more. The reasons for this structure: (1) to weed out people who aren't intrinsically motivated by working with children, i.e. the ones who probably shouldn't have permanent teaching jobs; (2) it takes years to become a master teacher and mentorship is the most valuable asset (after aptitude, perhaps) on that path. An apprenticeship system seems suitable for fostering this.

As for determining who makes it and who doesn't, I'd rely mostly on peer evaluation. Standardized tests are ok too (or could be, if we had good ones) but I'd weight them second. This problem isn't algorithmic.


Why don't pay them decently to start with, pay them better if they deserve it, and FIRE THEM if they don't?


Because "deserve?" and "fire" are hard functions to write. It seems easier to allow for a natural process of attrition.

Edit: I think society should ask one to earn the privilege of being a teacher (what more important asset could we entrust someone with than children?) and to compensate those who have earned it well enough to make it well worth earning.

What's a natural way to earn the right to be a teacher? By assisting those who have already earned it.

(This does raise a bootstrapping question, but that's hardly the crux of the matter.)


Is "earn" any harder to write than "deserve"? "Fire" is really easy...


If you think "fire" is easy, watch the lemon dance scene in Waiting for Superman.

You're missing my point about "earn", which is you don't have to write individual-testing logic if the general requirement is onerous enough. Those who really want to work with children will then have a natural advantage over those who are in it for other reasons. The latter will by definition find something easier to do, and it is greatly in society's interest that they do so.

Another advantage of this plan is that the degree of onerousness (how many years you have to put in, what you get paid, and so on) could be tested empirically.

ps: I like several of your other comments in this thread. Are you a teacher?


> If you think "fire" is easy, watch the lemon dance scene in Waiting for Superman.

That is my point. If fire never becomes easy we are just plain screwed.

Thanks for the comment about my posts. I would have liked to be a high school math teacher -- probably not forever, but for 5-10 years -- but the credentialing system and the crappiness of the schools in California dissuaded me. (If you have a BA in math, you can get a decent job besides teaching, unlike English.) I have tutored off and on since then, and if someone called me and offered a job at a charter school for my current 72K a year I would probably weep with joy and take it.


WalterBright is right.

How about eliminating taxpayer funding for schools altogether? We spend $68B on the DoE.

That is ~$900 per child in the US, according to http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/pop1.asp.

Then, entrepreneurs will be motivated to build schools because they can earn a profit based on enrollment. As with all private enterprises, they will be forced to compete on quality of service.

These schools will also be judged on the performance and caliber of their eventual alumni classes.

I am willing to wager that at least 30% of this board went to a private college. Why do we need the government running our schools, as well? To standardize a curriculum?

Electronics companies use the Underwriters's Lab to certify their products. I'm sure schools can have something similar.


In addition to the difficulty of rating teachers in a way that can be fairly coupled to pay, the fraction of teachers able to substantially increase their performance might be small. Identifying specific sources of confusion, inventing ways of explaining things to alleviate confusion, etc are non-trivial challenges.

What I think might be more effective than attempting to pay teachers for their teaching performance is paying teachers to produce very high-quality teaching material that other teachers can easily use themselves: detailed lesson plans, visual aids, interesting labs, textbooks, maybe even tables of sources of confusion and how to alleviate them.


Mr. Gates has identified the 50 state school superintendents as critical stakeholders in his plan. With this identified audience, he's turned what seems an impossible task into a more manageable one.

Now he has an identifiable audience, with identifiable needs. He will be able to eliminate some of the noise that surrounds such a large issue because of this.

Ultimately, the goal is to build the best possible performance based system, but Mr. Gates saves the time and effort associated with re-crafting rejected ideas, by identifying and including necessary input from his crucial stakeholders (state superintendents) on the front end.


Malcom Gladwell wrote an article with a similar viewpoint in the New Yorker a few years ago: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/12/15/081215fa_fact_...


I personally think Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics should somehow be incorporated into whatever educational reforms as a platform/canonical text. It's not just so much an ethical treatise (since he doesn't it tell you what to do) as a brochure on parenting.


Google "waiting for superman".


and then read the criticism of the movie and ponder it for a while to get a more balanced perspective.


and while we're at it, let's put a cap on CEO compensation at $300k/year for all non-founding CEO's and non-founding executives.




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