Monday, September 19, 2005

Could we double teacher pay? Why not?

I meant to post about this editorial when it appeared last week in the Washington Post. Seeing it today in the San Jose Mercury News reminded me of it. It's written by Chris Whittle, founder and CEO of the much embattled Edison Schools, Inc., a chain of for-profit schools that take over persistently failing schools.

In the editorial, Whittle argues that teachers should receive 100% more money than they currently get--literally. He believes that teacher pay could be doubled without raising taxes. And how could that be done? Writes Whittle,

America has about 3 million teachers in its public schools. What if we had a new school design that required only 1.5 million teachers but paid them double current levels? Does that mean class sizes would be doubled? Not necessarily; it's not what I would recommend. But it would be a way to force us to confront this thorny question: Is a class of 30 with a great teacher educationally inferior to a class of 15 with a so-so teacher?

Interesting question, but most classes have 25 students, not 15, which means doubling them would give us 50 students per class, not 30. Also, Whittle doesn't talk about what a great teacher does. In many Edison schools, teachers are required to use Direct Instruction (DI) programs. I've used them before and believe me, they don't consitute great teaching. Far from it. DI requires a teacher to read from a script, prompt the students to give responses (which they provide in unison), and hand out rewards on punishments immediately based on the answers (which are also scripted). Hardly what I would call an exciting classroom.

But while my vision of a great education differs greatly from Whittle's, I'm intrigued by his editorial anyway. Consider this:

Boeing rolled out its first 777 aircraft only after 10,000 people had worked for years to design it. The company spent more than $3 billion spread across 200 design teams working on various aspects of the plane, from the wings to the cockpit layout to the baggage bin. The result: a plane that is safer, easier to fly, more efficient and more comfortable -- a new design.

Now, ask yourself: Who designed our public schools? Where is the 777 of elementary schools or high schools? I am not speaking of buildings. By design, I mean every detail of a school's program. The truth is that our schools were not carefully designed. Virtually all of them are an inherited hodgepodge of programs and initiatives piled one on top of the other.

In the whole course of American history, there has never been a school-design effort that even remotely compared with what Boeing does for just one airplane.

It's a great point. And while I don't think Direct Instruction should be a part of any school's program, I completely agree that there is a lack of cohesion in educational design. Could a design team be assembled, comprising diverse viewpoints and backgrounds, to make recommendations for a streamlined yet meaningful educational program?

Why not?


Blogger EdWonk said...

One thing is for sure. If pay were substantially increased, the status of teachers would rise. (Sadly, compensation is what our culture uses to assign status.) With an increase in status, there would be a phenominal rise in the numbers of people desiring to enter the classroom.

Suddenly, schools could be very selective in who they hire...

11:36 PM  

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