I've got to get something off my chest. I've got a bias. It's a very particular point of view, born of my own personal experience and I've found a fair bit of data to back it up. But that last part's not that surprising. Most of us who have a bias and will talk about it publicly will find data to support our point of view. The things is, in journalism, it's hard to have a point of view, particularly on a topic that generates as much heat as this one. So, since transparency is one of our guiding principles here--and there's no one I like quoting better than NPR's Ombudsman Lisa Shepherd who likes to say, "Transparency is the new objectivity"-- I'd better unburden myself.
I love teachers, and I think they're ridiculously underpaid. It's not just that I think it's a really hard job deserving of better pay. I actually believe that the current state of the profession is a threat to democracy and our nation's economic vitality. (A bold statement, I know, but I'm just getting it all out there.) People who know me have heard me talk about teaching before and they're familiar with a book I co-wrote in 2005, that told the stories of teachers' lives and the innovative schools and districts that were seeking to change how and how much teachers are paid. That work I did so many years ago has resurfaced recently, for a few reasons.
Firstly, the book I co-wrote is now a new documentary called "American Teacher." There have been some preview screenings in SF, LA, DC and NY. (I'm hoping to get it to Ohio in late summer/early fall). You can see some clips here.
And then, there's this essay I just wrote for Cleveland magazine, about Ohio's SB 5 and how it offers this surprising opportunity to change the frame of the conversation we've been having about education.
Here's the part that will probably make some of my teacher friends angry:
Despite my feelings about the law, I think it may have created a chance to improve schools.
SB 5 and Gov. John Kasich's budget deal will radically change how teachers get paid. Raises will be based on performance evaluations, peer review (where it's in place), value-added measures (which measure growth in students' test scores rather than just the score itself) and any other criteria established by a local school board.
Many educators complain these requirements are vague. That's not a problem, though. It's an opportunity.
This is actually what I'm most passionate about when it comes to my pro-teacher bias. I think there's little that more important than changing this conversation about how teachers paid. The old "steps and lanes" salary schedule solved a 20th century problem very well, creating a kind of equity across the profession when it was desperately needed. We need a new kind of equity now, and this is where I find myself finding agreement with Governor Kasich, if I take him at his word.
Kasich's road show with Washington DC's former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is anchored by screenings of "Waiting for Superman." (To be clear, I don't agree with all the conclusions Davis Guggenheim comes to. I'm a big fan of schools that work, regardless of whether they're charters, traditional public schools or independent schools, for that matter).
Conservative union members (by which I mean those who resist changes to the status quo) have argued with me that they shouldn't be held accountable for factors they can't control, and student outcomes are influenced by home life, previous education. I agree. But teachers are experts in the field of assessments and evaluation. We need them to be a part of reshaping their own compensation. Only people who have taught know how difficult it is to teach well. I wouldn't trust Governor Kasich or most state legislators to design a rubric to assess high quality instruction teaching. But I would trust the teachers I know (including my wife, a teacher--more disclosure).
So, this debate about teacher accountability and compensation is igniting right now, and it's reasonable to expect teachers and others will want to talk about it at The Civic Commons. Now that I've gotten my biases out of the way, I can't wait for the conversation to begin.
Copyright © 2011 Dan Moulthrop; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.
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