12.03.2010

Professional Grade Teachers


My British American Project affiliation scored me access to a great teleconference that spanned the Atlantic and featured speakers in the US and UK on education reform. A central point that was made - higher-quality teachers make for better educational outcomes for students, especially disadvantaged students - is echoed by a recent McKinsey report highlighted in last week's issue of The Economist.

If this is the case, how to attract more of our best and brightest into the classroom? As one of the speakers noted, the removal of the glass ceiling for women over the past 40 years has meant that fewer career-minded women today are choosing to be teachers, whereas their counterparts from a generation ago might have felt that other outlets were unavailable to them. That's a lot of intellectual firepower that is now deployed in law, medicine, engineering, and business that was once more focused in the classroom. So there is a silver lining to this challenge of recruiting more of our best young worker bees into the teaching profession: it's a challenge because women are finding more and better career opportunities elsewhere.

I'm wading into a world I don't know well, but it seems to be that the successful models are successful because of their freedom to and commitment to taking teacher selection seriously - picking good teachers, holding them accountable to results, rewarding them when they succeed, and getting rid of them when they don't. At the risk of having a rock thrown through my window by the teacher's union, if I was king of AFT, I'd co-opt that sentiment and work towards the group becoming an affiliation with cache, and teaching becoming a profession with cache, rather than trying to protect weaker members from being fired and resisting any attempt to inject some market discipline into the industry. But if you know me, you knew I'd say that.

What's at stake, of course, is more than just the mission and viability of the teacher's union. We're talking about matters of global competitiveness in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, and matters of social justice in an increasingly stratified class structure. So it's crazy to me that we don't take teacher recruitment, selection, and monitoring more seriously.
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