As everyone who’s ever attended school or had a child in school knows, teachers are important; a good one can have positive effects that resonate throughout a student’s life, while a bad one can leave you happily dishing with former classmates for years, or much worse.
Teachers have been in the news recently too, as the Chicago teachers’ union strikes against flat salaries, evaluations and testing. Just how are the country’s teachers hired, evaluated and paid? The answers might surprise you, especially if you work in the private sector.
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, only 24 states tie teacher evaluations in any way to concrete signs of student progress. That means that in over half the states, teachers are not held responsible for the actual, measurable progress of their students. Of those 24, only 12 actually use student achievement as the most important factor in evaluations. Imagine if less than half of the nation’s engineers were held accountable for the results they produced. I wouldn’t want to cross any bridges.
Teachers supposedly have tenure in order to balance a low salary with job security, and thereby the profession can hope to attract excellent candidates. But in 39 states, the vast majority, tenure is virtually automatic, awarded with little or no regard to classroom performance, or often even any evaluation of a teacher’s mastery of his or her subject. In a fifth of the states, a teacher is not required to pass any kind of subject mastery test at all to be allowed into the classroom. Your kids may very well be learning math from someone who couldn’t pass a test on the subject to begin with.
And that low salary? In this “8.3 percent” economy, many people would love to bring home a Chicago teacher’s paycheck, which averages over $70,000 a year (the union’s demanded salary raise would have brought average annual salary above $90,000).
Florida offers us a vision of how different things could be. Teachers in Florida are evaluated mainly by classroom performance and their students’ improvement, and tenure is tied to that performance as well. Salary schedules are also developed with reference to teacher effectiveness in the classroom, and teachers can receive performance pay as well as bonuses for taking up the challenge of working in tough neighborhoods where students struggle. Along with the wide-ranging school choice agenda put into place in Florida ten years ago by former Governor Jeb Bush, these reform efforts have paid dividends, and Florida has been successful not only in raising the overall achievement of their students, but also in closing racial achievement gaps among them.
No wonder teachers’ unions fight so hard against common-sense reform of our education system. While school choice programs like DC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program are creating real results for a fraction of the cost of our creaky and monopolistic public education behemoth, the real beneficiaries of the billions of dollars Americans pour into education every year are teachers and administrators, and they have a very real incentive to keep the gravy train rolling.
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