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The Payout of Education Reform.
June 6, 2009 8:19 AM   Subscribe

In what has been described as "the American Idol of education" and "a biosphere of educational reform," The Equity Project Charter School will open in NYC this fall, offering $125,000 salaries to a "dream team" of teachers to test the theory that better teacher quality is the key to a better education for students.
posted by grapefruitmoon (71 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Better teacher quality is key, but no matter what the salary, there's a limited supply of individuals with aptitude willing to go into the field. Here in CA, it seems like almost all of the teachers are effectively subsidized by their spouses salaries, and there's enormous pressures limiting strike action and other effective collective bargaining tactics.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:32 AM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Equity Project will open with 120 fifth graders chosen this spring in a lottery that gave preference to children from the neighborhood and to low academic performers; most students are from low-income Hispanic families.

If they put this in a low-income district and barred outsiders from sending their kids there, that would be a true measure whether the idea works. As it is now, it's just a massive magnet for parents that want to be involved in their childrens' education, so pay or socioeconomic factors aside it's already destined for success.
posted by crapmatic at 8:33 AM on June 6, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'm sure top-notch teachers would help, but I have a feeling the most important key to a better education for students is proper motivation on the part of the students themselves and, to a lesser extent, their parents. A lot of the kids I knew in school wouldn't have learned shit even if the faculty had consisted of Einstein, Voltaire, Woolf, Newton, Curie, etc.
posted by you just lost the game at 8:37 AM on June 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


> Better teacher quality is key, but no matter what the salary, there's a limited supply of individuals with aptitude willing to go into the field.

There is no way in hell I could teach for a living and, as such, I admire anyone who has the stones to do it. $125,000 salaries? Add a couple of zeroes to the end of that number and I might think about it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:42 AM on June 6, 2009


The main reason I'm not teaching is the salary problem. (Not greedy at all--it's just not enough to feed a family.) So kudos and I can't wait to say I told you so.
posted by DU at 8:43 AM on June 6, 2009


The material says that they've already recruited two Ivy League graduates, and their employment requirements include:

(1) Expert Subject-Area Knowledge demonstrated through
(a) undergraduate and/or graduate coursework and excellent grades in the relevant subject area
(b) an original piece of writing on any topic in the subject-area
(c) a written analysis of a pedagogical issue related to the subject area

Teach for America recruits aggressively at the Ivies, and frequently makes the same claims: that the solution to improving urban education is to bring Harvard, Yale, and Stanford into the ghetto. Anecdotally, it seems like 1) recruiting efforts are much lower at non-Ivy schools, and 2) it's a lot harder to get noticed if you don't have a posh degree.

I may be wrong about this, but seeing these stipulations explicitly set out in the job advertisement (publications? graduate level education?) kind of makes my stomach turn. It would be great to see a program like this open to educators who haven't had the benefit of graduate education. As it is, suggesting that you can solve the problem of educational access on one end by limiting it on the other seems like a really bad precedent to set for this kind of thing.
posted by puckish at 8:48 AM on June 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm interested to see how this turns out. I worry about it for a number of reasons.

1) The teachers are going to get paid so much because the school will do without support staff, and instead have the teachers fill the roles of couselors, deans, etc. I teach on a campus where the same sort of thing is going on (the staffing thing, not the tremedous pay). and much of our staff is close to burnout right now. You want to see how good a teacher is? Let them TEACH. It's an exercise enough in multitasking as is.

2) Admittedly I read the NYTimes article yesterday, so I may not have all the details clear (it's behind a paywall now) but most of the teachers they're bringing in are older, and... well their personal lives aren't made totally clear, but they're able to up and move to New York for an experiment, I'm assuming they're relatively unattached. Maybe it's just my crazy Millennial sensibilities, but I want work-life balance, not for my work to be my life.

3) As mentioned above, a charter school population is already one level of parental involvement up from your traditional underperforming schools. Parents need to know it exists, be willing to go get the application, fill it out, return it by the deadline. To many poor, immigrant families, those steps require a lot of time and possibly literacy they might not have.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 8:54 AM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


After a few years, I'd love to see how well the students learned compared to the AIPCS (back to the basics school) discussed a few weeks ago.
posted by Houstonian at 9:02 AM on June 6, 2009


If they put this in a low-income district and barred outsiders from sending their kids there, that would be a true measure whether the idea works. As it is now, it's just a massive magnet for parents that want to be involved in their childrens' education, so pay or socioeconomic factors aside it's already destined for success.

This bears repeating, it's spot-on for one of the reasons why successful magnet schools are only partial victories.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


And here I thought it was "impossible " to live in NYC, or Manhattan anyway, on less than $400,000--hence the necessity for all those Wall Street bonuses . . . they'll have to live like church mice! (At least with a bankrolled charter like theirs they won't have to spend any of their own money on pencils and art supplies like most of the teachers I know.)
posted by emhutchinson at 9:05 AM on June 6, 2009


It would be great to see a program like this open to educators who haven't had the benefit of graduate education. As it is, suggesting that you can solve the problem of educational access on one end by limiting it on the other seems like a really bad precedent to set for this kind of thing. posted by puckish at 8:48 AM

Anecdata time!

I used to teach down in Escondido at a traditional public high school with a disprortionately large number of immigrant and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. There were two highly successful teachers in my department teaching English 12 AP. One went to Princeton and lived the job. Students love her, come back to visit, write letters from college, and truly feel challenged by her classes. The other, went to community college for two years before transferring to CSU San Marcos. She left school each day between 4 and 4:30 to go home and take care of her baby and hang out with her husband. Students love her, come back to visit, write letters from college, and truly feel challenged by her classes.

Both experienced high rates of success inspiring and transforming students' lives - students with incredible obstacles to surmount. I know it doesn't "prove" anything, but it stands out in my mind as an example that "highly qualified" does not have to mean "paid a lot for university."
posted by mdaugherty82 at 9:06 AM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Society needs to breed better students before they hire better teachers.
posted by Brian B. at 9:07 AM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of the biggest systemic problems with American schooling is that it's paid for with property taxes. A decent education is just about the only way out of poverty in north America, and until that changes, the poor will, by and large, always be poor.
posted by mhoye at 9:09 AM on June 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think the problem with education is education research : (a) they don't use controlled experiments and (b) they don't focus on average teachers. You'll help maters considerably if you focus on institutional measures that help average teachers teach better.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:23 AM on June 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think it's safe to say that this will be the American Idol of education, in the sense that it will be equally scientifically rigorous and broadly applicable.
posted by mayhap at 9:26 AM on June 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


I wish their theory had more depth than "pay higher salaries." Poor kids in bad neighborhoods don't just need good teachers, they need a school that looks after them when they're not in the classroom. The Harlem Children's Zone has been pretty successful by implementing programs such as parent outreach (if you've ever taught kids from poor families you'll know how amazingly important this is) and after-school community centers.

I don't think throwing money at the issue is going to change the fact that the majority of an inner city kid's time is spent in environments that don't encourage doing well in school.
posted by invitapriore at 9:27 AM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


The real proof of the theory would be to drop one of those right here and see how it works out.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:39 AM on June 6, 2009


secular missionaries.
posted by geos at 9:41 AM on June 6, 2009


Society needs to breed better students before they hire better teachers.

If the movie "Stand and Deliver" is anything to go on these are not independent factors as you apparently assume.

Plus my personal experience. Where would I be now if my math teacher hadn't had a TRS-80 set up in the study room, free for students to use during lunch.

California districts have an annual per-pupil cost of $8000 or more. At a 40-student class size that's $320,000 per year of funding. That's a lot of money!

I'm the biggest promoter of public education -- as opposed to private "silos" that totally separate rich from poor and smart from stupid -- on the planet, but something is rotten in the state of denmark WRT public education as it is now.
posted by @troy at 9:42 AM on June 6, 2009


For me this falls into the category of "well, duh."

Great teachers are the exception to the rule; creating more exceptions is admirable, but it won't do anything to change the fact that most teachers are going to be mediocre. And the curriculum is going to be designed so that mediocre teachers can teach it, which will severely limit the excellent teachers' ability to engage in excellent teaching.

We don't need a few more excellent teachers, bought with inordinate amounts of money. We need a way to get the vast majority of students stuck with mediocre teachers to be able to learn well anyway, despite their teachers' limitations.
posted by MrVisible at 9:44 AM on June 6, 2009


...teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in the academic success of students, particularly those from low-income families.

In my opinion, having taught in both very low-income and very high-income schools, all school-based factors are insignificant compared to parent involvement and the value parents place on education. It's extremely frustrating to see policy made in this country that completely ignores that factor.

If you want low-income schools to start performing, spend some money on community programs that encourage parents (or require them, or pay them) to come to the school on a regular basis to learn English, learn how to help their kids with homework, learn parenting skills, job fairs for unemployed parents, etc. Make the school a community center.

That said, imo we also need to make it a little easier to get rid of ineffective teachers...

Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task - LA Times
posted by Huck500 at 9:49 AM on June 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's cliché, but the problem starts at home.

When parents and older siblings care about the quality of education their children and younger siblings are getting, the children will grow up educated, no matter what school they go to. Until we break this idea that children are educated at some bloated institution 8 hours a day for 12 years this problem will continue.

Schools should supplement an education that your child should be getting in the home. Until our society learns to value education or meaningless distraction, and until we take charge of our children's education, this problem will continue.
posted by milarepa at 9:50 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


value education over meaningless
posted by milarepa at 9:51 AM on June 6, 2009


I'd give a lot more credence to the idiots trying to get rid of poverty in America if they'd acknowledge that education is what they need to be pushing instead of more aid and shit. Give a man a fish/teach a man to fish, etc. You don't want part of America to turn into the hole that is Africa on aid.
posted by kldickson at 9:52 AM on June 6, 2009


And they're not idiots because they're trying to get rid of poverty; they're idiots because they are doing it wrong.
posted by kldickson at 9:53 AM on June 6, 2009


I think the way that people try to measure "teacher quality" is way wrong. Think back to the teachers you remember having the most impact on you growing up. Were they the ones with the best degrees and collegiate grades? Probably, you don't even know what their qualifications were.

The teachers I remember the most were the ones that were passionate about what they taught and charismatic. It seems like the best way to determine which teachers had those qualities would be to actually watch them and see how they teach, see if they can engage the students or whatever.

Not that it matters. In 10-15 years most teachers will be replaced by AIs.
posted by delmoi at 9:54 AM on June 6, 2009


Huck500: The LAUSD Teachers union is unusually and particularly awful, so I would hesitate to generalize from those LA Times investigations.
posted by Weebot at 10:01 AM on June 6, 2009


Even if someone had a terminal degree, had published essays in prominent journals, and had a well rounded life outside of their education, it wouldn't matter one bit in this case if they didn't know how to actually teach. It seems as though the selection emphasis is on the background instead of the product. I hope they are paying as much attention to how clearly and enthusiastically the candidates can teach as they are to their accomplishments.

Didn't many of us have that particular college professor who was brilliant - no question- but whose lectures were a giant, frustrating puzzle? Or the professor who was similarly intelligent and versed but whose lectures were monotone and did nothing to inspire us?

Also, I would hate to think that someday I won't be able to get a job as a teacher because I couldn't afford to/didn't necessarily want to attend an Ivy League school.

I think something that would help to revitalize public education is to actively work as a country to change the connotations associated with 'school'. In the United States, commercials and television shows often depict a school-aged child who fakes being sick to get out of going to school, kids who spend all of class time daydreaming and passing notes, teens who live for the sound of the bell that will allow them to sprint as fast as they can away from that dreaded building. In this kind of culture, parents end up struggling with their kids to get them to go and teachers, especially at the elementary level, become disciplinarians.

And all of this occurs while students in third world countries walk miles through dangerous areas to get to school. Maybe their families get along on even less food so that they can send them.

Education is valuable. As adults, most of us realize this. Beyond that, it also has intrinsic value. The world is interesting! Kids in third world countries know this because it might be the only thing that is powerful enough to maybe someday help them live a better life. I think kids in the US, while they are great kids a lot of the time, really don't understand or don't care that education is important. Therefore, the best route to improving education would be to help them love learning. Instead of framing education as something that will one day help you get a better job, or buy a better house, or be more powerful - all ideas that are far away and not really related to kids' everyday lives - frame it as something that can make your life more meaningful, something that can make you happy, something that can be explored. Kids will learn better if they want to learn.

It's difficult, but I believe it can be done.

*Most of this is based upon observation and reflection. However, I have logged many volunteer hours in elementary, middle, and high schools and am going on to get a Master's in Education this coming Fall because I want to become a teacher. So I feel like I have some experience.
posted by delicate_dahlias at 10:03 AM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Much higher salaries? Fantastic.

Highly motivated teachers? Great.

Graduate degrees and subject-matter expertise? Irrelevant.

Above a certain baseline-- a baseline, which, admittedly, we haven't arrived at-- the teachers' individual academic preparation matters much less than the structure of the pedagogical system. Yes, it's true that individual superstar teachers make an outsize impact-- but that superstarriness derives not from brains and book learnin' as such, but from coaching and motivational skill.

You want great schools?
1) Get *relatively* smart teachers, and pay them *relatively* well;
2) Set up an ongoing teacher training system, based on camera monitoring of the classroom combined with regular, after-action, intensive feedback from mentors;
3) Cut teaching time by a third, and redirect that time to training and feedback;
4) and, obviously, get rid of the tenure system.

The real problem with our educational system (apart from the economic and cultural circumstances surrounding the kids, which, of course, vary), is that our teachers are under-trained in the process of emotionally leading and guiding children; have too much to do and not enough support; are more or less left to burnout; and then, having been burnt out, can't be fired.

The flaw in what we're doing isn't so much the caliber of our teachers, but the utterly lousy system we've built around them.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:03 AM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


I agree totally with milarepa that the crux of the American education problem with regard to low test scores is a lack of emphasis on education at home. I've worked in Early Childhood Education and have seen research pointing towards the fact that even at that age, test scores can be predicted by parental involvement: the more involved the parent, the higher the score.

American schools seem to be (from what I've seen of foreign schools, which is admittedly not more than a passing glimpse in France, Iceland, and Germany) unique in making the school act as teachers, coaches, and - quite frankly - babysitters. American schools are entrusted with much more than just teaching the subject matter; they're also seen to be responsible for character and community development. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, except when it's a substitute for family involvement.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:04 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Well, "AIs" is a being a little flip, but there are a ton of things that could be taught very easily by a computer game based on spaced repetition memorization, rather then a teacher and textbook and weekly quizzes. With constant feedback on how well information is being absorbed, the computers could adjust the level of information they're getting. So smart kids wouldn't get bored and waste their time, and dumb kids wouldn't fall behind. With this kind of model, quality teachers are less important)
posted by delmoi at 10:05 AM on June 6, 2009


And will these classrooms be stuffed with 40-odd students, decades-old textbooks, decrepit fixtures, and will they also have a couple of special-needs students that account for 5% of the class but 50% of the teacher's time?

It's pretty easy to get results when you've got a small class, no special needs, and a shitton of resources.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:10 AM on June 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


"highly qualified" does not have to mean "paid a lot for university."

Statements like this come across as pure sour grapes to me. Really great colleges, whether private or public, attract talented students. And many top schools don't cost a lot for poor students with the qualifications to get in, something that has been true for a while. I don't think anyone is suggesting that we should recruit from crappy, expensive private schools where dumb rich kids are sent.

Statements like this about top Universities are just knee-jerk, misguided anti-elitism, just like conservatives mocking arugula or science.
posted by snofoam at 10:11 AM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Statements like this about top Universities are just knee-jerk, misguided anti-elitism, just like conservatives mocking arugula or science.

So you've paid a lot for college, huh?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:25 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


what if all those 'lower performing' schools turned out A+ ready for Harvard graduates, or even ready for CalPoly students? There are a lot more poor kids than 'middle class' kids. Maybe there will always be kids like GW Bush who can only fail upwards. But what about all those not-so-bright kids who are willing to trudge through an education degree? What are they going to do?

You can't imagine a public education system outside of the social order: we don't live in a meritocracy...
posted by geos at 10:32 AM on June 6, 2009


A lot of the kids I knew in school wouldn't have learned shit even if the faculty had consisted of Einstein, Voltaire, Woolf, Newton, Curie, etc.

Schools should supplement an education that your child should be getting in the home.

This has been my experience in the classroom--my biggest problems as a very motivated young teacher who worked hard and cared a lot and left the job after three years (am teaching at a university now) were these: apathetic parents who simply did not understand that they are their child's primary teachers, and who had never taught their children to learn or to value learning at all--I'm serious, no book reading whatsoever, etc.; classes with WAY too many students and not nearly enough resources; and school systems that would or could not recognize in any way (funding, raises, resources) teachers and programs that were demonstrating great excellence and/or success.

Most teachers are bad teachers today because they are overwhelmed by all kinds of shit that is not teaching....things like: hey, it's first hour, so I have to wait for the annoucements, we say the pledge, then I take attendance and fill out a scantron and send it immediately to the office....then I have three classes in a row with about five minutes in between, during which time I have to stay at my door any monitor hallway foot traffic, so that there is literally NO transition time...then, on my "planning period", I have a stack of required paperwork to fill out on a variety of students for all kinds of reasons, looks like I'll be planning and grading at home again tonight, and then I have 2 conferences with parents who are pissed that I actually held their perfect kid accountable for poor behavior choices.....then I have three more classes, but at a different school (did I mention that my lunch hour is spent in transit?), also with no prep time and in a temporary classroom (a fancy trailer) where the AC has been out all week in 95-degree weather....and etc. There are a million variations on this theme, but my point is that so few teachers are able to spend their energy on core teaching activities: planning lessons, prepping materials, actual teaching, and extra work with students individually who may need it.

In California, it's not just low pay that devalues the profession: the whole University of California system is practically oblivious to the importance of teacher education and training (quick: name a major School of Education at a California university!), and that (lack of) valuing trickles down.

Or as fff said much more succinctly: It's pretty easy to get results when you've got a small class, no special needs, and a shitton of resources.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:33 AM on June 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


Nah, my rich parents did.
posted by snofoam at 10:33 AM on June 6, 2009


American schools are entrusted with much more than just teaching the subject matter; they're also seen to be responsible for character and community development.

I agree--I've long felt that the problem isn't that schools don't do enough; it's that they're required to do too much. Schooling cannot fix social problems.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:36 AM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is already possible to get a world class education in American public schools, as long as your parents are obsessed with your education and willing to do whatever it takes to foster your love of learning.
posted by snofoam at 10:41 AM on June 6, 2009


It's true, however, that many students don't find themselves until they get into a college--and that might very well be a state college. I taught at commuter colleges, and have had brilliant
"non-traditional" students who went to the local college while they worked full time to help pay tuition costs, single mothers who couldn't just pack up and head out of state immediately. I think it's more a question of balance, just as it should be with any organization of institution. Why's it awful to ask for a diversity in life experiences anyway, or to look for enthusiasm and charisma, etc.? Hasn't a best-and-brightest attitude proven repeatedly disastrous for many organizations? (Seriously. You think the housing crisis was brought to you strictly by poor or just plain irresponsible mortgage holders, and not people from the elite strata? Too much to get into here, but it's connected.) I don't see why you'd expect that to work out better for elementary and secondary schools.

It's also undeniably true, meanwhile, that the Ivies and places like Stanford receive far more qualified applicants than they have room to admit. And it's also true that there are still legacy admissions, still many more students with resources who go to the schools than poor kids, something that will be likely be even more true in coming years given the hit to endowments at many top schools.
posted by raysmj at 10:45 AM on June 6, 2009


Also, I wanted to add that a teacher isn't responsible for a student's learning--the student is. The teacher is responsible for presenting as many learning opportunities as possible, for sequencing and presenting the material in a way that it is learnable (and being flexible in such), and for being a compelling figure so that students buy into what's going on in class.

But we only ever actually teach ourselves--when you read the idea and think about it, ask questions, and find understanding in your own mind--and no teacher can ever make that happen. As much as we'd like to.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:45 AM on June 6, 2009


Statements like this about top Universities are just knee-jerk, misguided anti-elitism, just like conservatives mocking arugula or science.

On its own, yes. But the original point (mine, anyway) was about recruiting, not qualification. Others can weigh in on this, but as an undergrad and grad at very prestigious universities, TFA is a huge recruiting presence. It's no different from large corporations, internships, and other high-profile employment opportunities -- they come because there are good, talented people there, who are there (in part) because they've been attracted by the opportunities at those institutions.

I'm not in TFA, but have friends in the program. Out of a group of five, we had two from Harvard, one from Yale, one from Stanford, and one from Johns Hopkins. They were all gifted, committed, and amazing teachers -- I'm certainly not trying to denigrate the quality of the teaching -- I think that good schools absolutely foster talent and dedication. At the same time, recruitment practices matter, and it would be a shame (not to say a little ironic) to leave out equally talented people, just because they didn't have or choose the same educational opportunities.

Spoken as someone who loves arugula, and paid a TON for my education!

It's not the end of the world -- and you definitely shouldn't EXCLUDE people who hae higher degrees or prestigious qualifications. But it doesn't make someone a better teacher -- and it shouldn't be the first thing they look for.
posted by puckish at 10:51 AM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


One thing I'd like to have statistics about would be that how many people even have had a teacher that had impact on them when growing up.

I feel I didn't had one. I could pick who had the most impact, but even that would be far from dramatic story of someone instilling me enthusiasm towards something I previously had no interest about, killing my curiousity on something or encouraging me to perform on levels I couldn't have reached otherwise. Nothing like this happened and my school went well. I'm sure it happens and people remember it, but I suspect it gets too much emphasis when thinking about what teachers should do; it makes a good story, but it hides the big picture.

With these statistics, (1) I'd like to see if teacher's encouragement, enthusiasm or discouragement has played larger part for those people coming from more difficult background than for those from more middle-class or well-off surroundings. It maybe that my safe middle-class childhood instilled me the same values that significant teachers would have instilled, so I didn't need one and won't remember having one. This is a common theory, but statistics on how people remember their significant teachers could bring some light to that.

(2) I'd like to know if there is a noticable difference between ratios of people who remember having a really good teacher at some point and who have escaped from poverty to those who also remember having had a really good teacher but have stuck in low-income, low-status life, compared to same groups who haven't had a significant teacher.

If someone knows if data like this has been collected, please point me towards it. If not, I'd be interested in doing such research.
posted by Free word order! at 10:55 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


puckish, I totally agree with you. I also don't think having an Ivy League education necessarily would have any bearing on their ability to teach well. I also agree that there are some legacy students who don't deserve to be there and that kids with educated parents have a huge leg up on the whole process. And I don't have any insight into the recruiting practices of TFA.

I was just calling out the specific comment that ignorantly implied that an Ivy League education is simply bought.
posted by snofoam at 11:07 AM on June 6, 2009


Great teachers are the exception to the rule; creating more exceptions is admirable, but it won't do anything to change the fact that most teachers are going to be mediocre.

Ouch. What's your basis for this statement? I know a lot of really great teachers.

Statements like this come across as pure sour grapes to me.

Sorry, not how it was intended to come off. I went to a pricey and good private uni that imbued me with all kinds of elite thoughts about the hoi polloi that went to... God forbid... state schools. Then my experience working with astoundingly successful, brilliant, and compassionate teachers while I floundered in my first year of teaching quickly disabused me of thosee notions. Under their mentorship and guidance, I became the teacher I am today.

In California, it's not just low pay that devalues the profession: the whole University of California system is practically oblivious to the importance of teacher education and training (quick: name a major School of Education at a California university!), and that (lack of) valuing trickles down.

No kidding. Many of the colleges I've looked at for grad school have a School of Ed. tacked on as an afterthought. Where I went to college, our building was located off-campus. They've since built a facility on campus, but it's more focused on Leadership Science than education. It's like various Universities are reluctant to treat school teaching like a serious profession, for fear it'll bring down the prestige of the institution.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 11:15 AM on June 6, 2009


I was just calling out the specific comment that ignorantly implied that an Ivy League education is simply bought.

Again, apologies. Not what I intended to imply. As an English teacher, you'd think I'd be better at expressing myself!
posted by mdaugherty82 at 11:28 AM on June 6, 2009


It's like variousA shocking number of Universities are reluctant to treat school teaching like a serious profession, for fear it'll bring down the prestige of the institution.

With that little edit, I agree completely. I'm not sure it's just about prestige, and this is a long tangential topic, but the growth and metastasizing of the business paradigm have certainly overvalued publishing/research to the detriment of not just Education programs, but all arts & humanities programs more generally, as has the ridiculous, ever-increasing specialization within fields (see this spot-on, terrific TED talk). It is very frustrating to those of us who value non-quantifiable fields.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:39 AM on June 6, 2009


It is already possible to get a world class education in American public schools, as long as your parents are obsessed with your education and willing to do whatever it takes to foster your love of learning.

It's possible, but damn unlikely even with devoted parents.

For two years, I lived in a tiny, and I mean tiny like you'd fucking panic if you went into it, apartment in Manhattan, so I could get my daughter into one of the best chartered public middle schools in Manhattan. While the education there has been better than it would have been in Brooklyn, I wouldn't exactly call it world class. Their "library" is a joke, its population has grown by about 25% in the last 2 years and it's woefully underfunded. The teachers are great, but there is only so much they can do. If I left it up to them, she'd still be reading "literature" one step above Nancy Drew. I was living in what Forbes declared the richest zip code in Manhattan, but there is a reason why all the other parents there send their kids to private school...because they can afford it and that is where you get a world class education in America.

It's possible to get a world class education anywhere with devoted parents, but getting one in an American public school can be fucking next to impossible.
posted by milarepa at 11:46 AM on June 6, 2009


it's pretty easy to get results when you've got a small class, no special needs, and a shitton of resources.

actually they do say they're doing 40-student class sizes.

That alone theoretically raises the salary 30%.
posted by @troy at 11:54 AM on June 6, 2009


It's possible to get a world class education anywhere with devoted parents, but getting one in an American public school can be fucking next to impossible

yeah, I was an inductee into the pre-Prop 13 california system and was put on the MGM track at an early age; Junior High courses were compartmentalized into the MGM-Middling-Fuckup tranches and the GATE classes in high school pretty much the same story even though Prop 13 was beginning to work its magic in the early 80s.

But after getting out and comparing my 10 years on the elite public track experience to a real world-class private school education I can see I was pushed to maybe 10% of what real money can provide.

If I ever have kids it's going to be home-schooling for me.
posted by @troy at 12:01 PM on June 6, 2009


It is already possible to get a world class education in American public schools, as long as your parents are obsessed with your education and willing to do whatever it takes to foster your love of learning.

My parents were obsessed with my education and willing to do whatever it took to foster my love of learning.

They sent me to private school in the 10th grade after the local public schools failed them/me completely. One of the things my mother regrets is not doing this sooner. So, no, I don't agree that you can get a "world-class" education at any American public school. I will agree that these schools do exist, but not where I grew up.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:13 PM on June 6, 2009


Related: S.C. high court orders Sanford to accept money: The state’s top court ruled unanimously Thursday that Gov. Mark Sanford must apply for the disputed $700 million in federal stimulus money [most of which is slated for education]. Here's a model student:...it was Casey Edwards, a Chapin High School student graduating Friday, who brought it to the state's highest court. She beamed as she told reporters she "was very excited that our schools and our teachers and our education system will be getting the funds that are so desperately needed here in South Carolina."
posted by ornate insect at 12:47 PM on June 6, 2009


Here's a thought: What if we forced parents to take some responsibility for their children's grades? Obviously some kids are incorrigible, but for those super-tough cases the parents would have to prove that their kids have issues and at least try to do something about it.

We force divorced parents to pay child support. Why not force parents to put in time and effort into their kids education. There could be a lot of ways to do stuff like this.
posted by delmoi at 12:49 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sure top-notch teachers would help, but I have a feeling the most important key to a better education for students is proper motivation on the part of the students themselves

I agree. I think the way teaching and learning is discussed is unhelpful to figuring out what the actual problem is. The problem (I don't think) has ever been teacher pay. I think most teachers go into teaching knowing how much or how little they are going to get paid. It's the dysfunction of the students that drives them to think they're not being paid enough to put up with what ends up being babysitting.

I also never understood why people think the brightest minds will be attracted to teaching if they throw enough money at them, or that being bright equates to being a good teacher. Many of the brightest people are not at all well-liked by people (imagine the young Steve Jobs as a teacher, mercurial, prone to fits or Bill Gates fidgeting and short-tempered in front of a classroom of hormone-driven high schoolers) or any number of math whizzes or science geniuses. Any teacher could lose their drive and motivation in a classroom full of kids that don't behave properly and aren't easy to deal with.
posted by anniecat at 1:33 PM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why not force parents to put in time and effort into their kids education.

I work really normal hours, but I'm exhausted by the end of the day. I don't have kids and I just can't imagine having the energy and patience necessary for something like that, especially if I worked a low level job that actually required me to concentrate on not hating my job. And it has been years since I've done any science or math work. Probably a good thing that I don't have any children=)
posted by anniecat at 1:38 PM on June 6, 2009


I work really normal hours, but I'm exhausted by the end of the day.

And you probably have a car to get to work and back. I see hundreds of people waiting for buses every day, and I do know that in my area they only come every 30 minutes.
posted by @troy at 1:44 PM on June 6, 2009


actually they do say they're doing 40-student class sizes

With how many teachers or aides?

Force parents to put in time and effort? Hell, we can't even force them to give a good goddamn about their kid. You ever seen how many kids out there are poorly nourished, abused, or emotional wrecked? Got a long, long way to go before "parents support schools" becomes a reality.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:18 PM on June 6, 2009


If we say:

"I think most teachers go into teaching knowing how much or how little they are going to get paid."
about teachers, then doesn't the same "you knew what you were getting into" apply to:

"I work really normal hours, but I'm exhausted by the end of the day. I don't have kids and I just can't imagine having the energy and patience necessary for something like that"
in regards to parents?

It's funny, from my view as a teacher:
Teachers tend to point fingers at the students and the parents.
Parents tend to point fingers at the teachers and the school.
The school (admin) tends to point fingers at the teachers and the parents.
Students tend to point fingers at the teachers and the school.

Really, there need to be tweaks in all departments to truly "fix" the system.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 2:44 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they put this in a low-income district and barred outsiders from sending their kids there, that would be a true measure whether the idea works. As it is now, it's just a massive magnet for parents that want to be involved in their childrens' education, so pay or socioeconomic factors aside it's already destined for success.

This is a much better experiment than this paragraph implies. It *is* in a low income district with many more slots than they had applicants and they did choose the low-performing students over the higher performing ones.

The problem with *all* of the charter schools is that they select for parent involvement because the parents have to at least care enough to get into the lottery. But that doesn't make this school any different from any of the other charters, in fact, in some instances, the selection issues are worse because they don't select for kids who aren't doing well.

Also, to whomever thought making parents accountable for kids' bad grades was a good idea: NOT. The low income abusive and/or neglectful and/or mentally ill and/or addicted parents whose children tend to do the worst are already facing things like prison because of their addictions. Their problem is typically not a lack of care or a lack of punishment or accountability-- but deep-seated problems that make them incapable of dealing with the situation better than they are without help and/or more resources.

If you look at the actual lives of low income people in these situations, their stories and the daily stress they encounter on top of things like having been molested from age 3 to 8 and watching the only nonabusive person in their lives get shot and getting pregnant at 14 then dropping out of school-- you'll see that it is a whole set of interlocking problems that needs to be addressed before a child is even born to give them anything approaching the advantage a kid born into the middle class has before he even starts preschool.
posted by Maias at 2:50 PM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]



The best teacher I ever had was Mr.Kaplonski. A history teacher.
He mysteriously disappeared from the classroom in 1952. All kinds of rumors. Turns out he was a communist sympathizer. Right. Let's hear it for the good old days. All it took was a John Birch type parent to drop a dime on a teacher and they were toast. And people pooh, pooh the need for teachers associations.
posted by notreally at 4:15 PM on June 6, 2009


And you probably have a car to get to work and back.

No, I don't, but I take the metro and then do a short walk to my apt in a nice, upper middle class neighborhood where the birds chirp and things are very pretty and pleasant. It's even better than having to fight traffic or get on a bus. And my employer pays my transportation costs every month. So I have it even better than the average commuter and am still exhausted and unwilling to do anything responsible at the end of my day.
posted by anniecat at 4:16 PM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


If we say:

"I think most teachers go into teaching knowing how much or how little they are going to get paid."
about teachers, then doesn't the same "you knew what you were getting into" apply to:

"I work really normal hours, but I'm exhausted by the end of the day. I don't have kids and I just can't imagine having the energy and patience necessary for something like that"
in regards to parents?


I suppose all women who get pregnant (and can't afford an abortion or don't get one because of religious/cultural propaganda) want their babies and want to be mothers?
posted by anniecat at 4:34 PM on June 6, 2009


Salary is at best a part of the problem. Consider science. A physics PhD + postdoc takes your entire youth on a barely survivable stipend. Junior faculty get paid less than public school teachers. Yet, I see brilliant competent people working till eight and nine in every graduate program.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:16 PM on June 6, 2009


All it took was a John Birch type parent to drop a dime on a teacher and they were toast. And people pooh, pooh the need for teachers associations.

B-b-but teachers' unions reward mediocrity and force hardworking taxpayers to pay those lazy teachers HUGE salaries!
posted by John of Michigan at 6:25 PM on June 6, 2009


I suppose all women who get pregnant (and can't afford an abortion or don't get one because of religious/cultural propaganda) want their babies and want to be mothers?

Okay, SO not where I wanted to take that. Again, I apologize if the way I phrased it made it unclear as to my actual point.
(Although at some point I have to wonder if you knew the point I was trying to make, and instead chose to put me on the losing side of a women's issues argument instead of engaging my actual ideas.)

As far as how to solve the teacher quality issue? It's a tough one, one that that requires a lot more... something. One thought I had while mulling it over is we have to improve the evaluation process. If I was allowed to brainstorm a solution with no regard to cost or physics... ideally there could be a camera in every teacher's classroom (I'm okay with it) and that teacher would be evaluated in a one-on-one with an administrator every 6 weeks or so. They'd be allowed to pull footage from 2 days they felt their lessons went pretty well, and the admin also select one at random. This would allow the teacher to showcase their best work, allow the admin to make sure they weren't just seeing a show, and the frequency would help that admin understand the history and culture of the teacher's classroom.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 7:03 PM on June 6, 2009


Me: Society needs to breed better students before they hire better teachers.

@Troy: If the movie "Stand and Deliver" is anything to go on these are not independent factors as you apparently assume.


There is an apparent supply-side gambit targeting teacher quality and class sizes, instead of criticizing the quality and quantity of the students. This serves a wide conservative platform on education reform, as well as camouflaging the negative results of large families and anti-abortion efforts. Regardless, looking for a smarter teacher to serve declining intellectual demands in the classroom is a bluff and an excuse.
posted by Brian B. at 8:16 PM on June 6, 2009


(Although at some point I have to wonder if you knew the point I was trying to make, and instead chose to put me on the losing side of a women's issues argument instead of engaging my actual ideas.)

I thought your point was that since teachers know what they're getting into by going into teaching, shouldn't parents, by having had kids (instead of, you know, not getting pregnant or aborting them), know that they need to help their kids with homework and be more invested in their kids' education and learning? If you didn't mean that, feel free to explain to me what you meant. Because it doesn't take money, certification or a master's degree to get pregnant and have a kid. Obviously lots of parents, especially poor parents who work menial jobs 12 hours a day or work from 3 pm-1 am, who may not speak English or have finished high school, don't have the luxury of keeping their eyes open when Junior comes home asking for help with Shakespeare or algebra or physics.
posted by anniecat at 9:14 PM on June 6, 2009


this is such a bunch of crap. my education had nothing to do with my teachers "quality". it had to do with how interested in respectiving my independent abilities and talents and letting me do "my own thing".

mark twain said it best: never let school get in the way of your education

education is a life-long process that is not dependent upon curricula or teachers.

for a child to succeed at what they are best they do need a whole community of people making sure they have the time, the space and the resources to get better at what they're go at doing. and that would mean a lot of the time NOT DOING IT THROUGH A SCHOOL and most certainly NOT HAVING A "TEACHER" through that process.

mentors? that's a whole different discussion.

that said, i do believe teachers need to be paid more. but i'd rather see 125,000 used for hiring one more teacher and an assistant if it means that each teacher now will have no more than 10 kids in a classroom.

because that's the root of a lot of the problems. too many kids fall victim of the "benign neglect" necessary when there's one teacher dealing with more than 10 kids in one classroom.
posted by liza at 8:42 AM on June 7, 2009


Here's a thought: What if we forced parents to take some responsibility for their children's grades? Obviously some kids are incorrigible, but for those super-tough cases the parents would have to prove that their kids have issues and at least try to do something about it.

We force divorced parents to pay child support. Why not force parents to put in time and effort into their kids education. There could be a lot of ways to do stuff like this.
posted by delmoi at 3:49 PM on June 6


oh for the love of fucking blog, could people please stop with this strawman. the vast majority of parents are absolutely involved in their kids education and are caring and responsible about their children's welfare up to their abilities.

meaning, a lot of parents are left in the dark many times by school professionals on how to best help their kids because they have a contempt for parent input in the first place.

when i was one of those teachers that would go out of their way to call parents to set up a meeting, many of my colleagues detested the idea. "too much work" a lot of them would say about how actually working with parents instead of doing paperwork was just a big no-no.

the united states' schooling culture assumes parents have the worst intentions for their kids. they assume they have to save kids from potetial abuse or neglect at home. nyc is one of the oldest public school systems in the country. it's why they hate homeschoolers --because the law was actually written by the foundling industry back in the 1800s.

the NYC public school system was invented to avert the flood of jacob rhiis characters on nyc streets. it wasn't just to educate kids. it was about averting a society full of foundlings.

it doesnt help either we have the UFT which has battled every single way it can any opening or actual liberalization of education laws. meaning, they've fought tooth-and-nail to avert any deschooling of the education system because in their minds it would mean the end of their bargaining power. and that's why they create the boogey man of careless and incompetent parents that teachers need to save children from.

that's the politics end of things it is not necessarily the reality of what happens between parents, teachers and children. yet the culture of mistrust is there and it's hard to break through it.

so not until we create communications practices that best allow for collaborative work between parents and teachers and the community at large, we're going to have this bullcrap about how parents don't care or how teachers are just victims of circumstance.

i mean, imagine if teachers and parents had to work together using GoogleDocs to help kids with their homework. think about that process for a second. it would completely radicalize the conversation by moving away from the whole concept of schooling as a one-size fits all.

and yet, most of google is restricted here in NYC. wikipedia is totally inacessible. i just found out that 99% of blogs are also blocked by the NYCBOE.

collaboration? transparency? openness? those are terms the schooling system, at least here in NYC, is completely afraid of, starting with the UFT and the mayor's office.

so yeah. cry me a river about parents not caring.

puh-lease.
posted by liza at 9:01 AM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the biggest challenges that teachers (and parents) face is the brainwashing that children are subjected to if they watch television. Corporations spend untold millions fine-tuning messages designed to turn children into passive consumers. Babies recognize corporate logos. Consumerism and real learning are diametrically opposed. Instead of using their innate curiosity to explore and learn about the world around them children seek new experiences through consumption of new useless stuff.
posted by mareli at 11:29 AM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


"One of the biggest systemic problems with American schooling is that it's paid for with property taxes. A decent education is just about the only way out of poverty in north America, and until that changes, the poor will, by and large, always be poor."

Exactly. Well, there are other issues, but yes. I strongly feel we need to federalize education funding entirely. I realize this takes some autonomy from local districts, but to further deprive kids in poor areas through inadequately funded schools is bass-ackwards. But, really, some top educators and school administrators should design a national curriculum (with educators being more heavily weighted), who are appointed through performance. But all teachers should be able to make a living wage in their communities and should get automatic raises to adjust for inflation as well as encourage continuity. If teachers aren't performing or if there are issues with their job, then they should be given opportunities to improve or be demoted, transferred or fired as appropriate.

But the playing field has to be leveled in order for that to work. You can't have woefully underfunded schools in impoverished areas and blame the teachers for all the issues in the school. As others have mentioned, in many schools the problems start at home and may be very difficult for individual children and their teachers to surmount, but improving the status and pay of teachers will enrich the communities in which they live, and there could even be encouragement built-in for the teachers and administrators to live in their district, like incentive pay for living in the district, and even further incentives for those teachers to get involved in local community-based programs. If the schools are well-funded (or even just funded) in all districts without exception and the teachers have support and are paid well, and you encourage them to live and work in their communities on multiple levels, I think you have an opportunity to build some strong roots for a community, as a resource like that pays dividends well into the future. It would help even more with some grassroots community organization efforts to get the parents involved in their kids' education, but if the school sets a good example it becomes easier to get parents on board, because people have mostly lost faith in the system as it is and fall into apathy. It would take a while, but I think we need to start setting a national standard for education which offers everyone the same opportunities, because otherwise we're deliberately disenfranchising people who are already on the edge.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:35 PM on June 7, 2009


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