Allow me to propose a new rule of political discourse: whenever Megan McArdle and Matt Yglesias agree about something, then that thing should become law. Immediately.
Today’s outbreak of McArdle-Yglesias harmony regards reforming teacher pay, so that it’s more strongly linked with being a good teacher, and less strongly linked with, um, being older. And having pointless degrees which don’t improve teaching.
[T]he implication that the idea that pay should be differentiated based on effectiveness constitutes “teacher-bashing” is bizarre.
… once we’ve hit upon a given pot of money to spend on teacher compensation, a question arises of how it should be divided up. One way to divide it up would be evenly—each teacher could make the same salary. That would, however, be a bit weird and we don’t do it that way. Instead, we pay teachers more the more experience they have, and we also pay them more when the acquire master’s degrees.
The point of paying higher salaries to people with advanced degrees has to be the belief that teachers with advanced degrees are more effective than teachers without advanced degree. It turns out to be the case, however, that research says this is wrong. I don’t think it’s “pro-teacher” to be giving teachers financial incentives to essentially waste their time acquiring advanced degrees that don’t help them. This is simply an irrational way of divvying up the compensation pot.
Paying more for more experienced teachers makes sense, but currently we seem to be giving more weight to seniority than it deserves. Paying more for extra degrees makes no sense. Paying more for people with in-demand technical skills makes sense. Paying more for people who take on more challenging assignments in high-poverty classrooms makes sense. And trying harder to directly measure and reward effectiveness also makes sense. But if I’m “bashing” anyone it’s purveyors of useless M. Ed. degrees.
Now here’s Megan:
This is one of those odd areas where Matt and I are in total agreement. We should pay teachers much more than we do. Right now, they take a substantial portion of their “pay” in the form of near-total job security. People like this benefit. But in most cases, they shouldn’t have it, because it has predictible effects on performance–particularly when it is coupled with a pay scale that relies on measurable but not very useful traits like advanced degrees (totally useless) and seniority (the benefits of experience eventually level off). The only thing teachers have a financial incentive to do under this system is keep their butts in the teacher’s chair, and acquire useless degrees from programs that mostly teach students how to sit through long and pointless classes.
The obvious thing to do is to strip the protections and up the pay, while using merit metrics to determine how that pay is allocated.
England had a crack at introducing ‘Performance Related Pay’ for teachers in the late 1990’s. Experienced teachers could apply to cross a ‘performance threshold’, graduating to a new (higher) pay scale if they succeeded, plus a £2,000 annual bonus. Teachers wishing to ‘cross the threshold’ had to fill in a form, and have their application assessed by their head teacher and an external auditor.
Here’s the catch: Nearly 90% of eligible teachers applied for the performance bonus. 97% were awarded it. Head teachers weren’t picky when it came to dishing out the bonuses. The scheme turned into a pay rise for virtually all teachers.
So what should be done? How can teacher pay be reformed in a way that attracts and retains high fliers, without simply hurling money at all teachers?
One interesting suggestion I heard at a recent conference (it may have been from Simon Burgess of Bristol’s CMPO) was to make teachers’ pay more like lawyers’ pay. That is, offer big rewards to those who ‘make the grade’ after the first few years, but without the expectation that everyone who joins the profession will succeed. The first three years (say) of a teachers’ career would be a sort of whittling process, with low-ish pay (as now) but the promise of a significant pay jump for those who prove themselves in the classroom.
Teachers’ unions have long expressed the wish for teaching to be considered a ‘profession’, like law or medicine. But those are high risk professions compared with teaching – your first few years in the job are ‘make or break’. If teachers are to be treated like professionals, perhaps they should be paid like professionals – for better (more money) and for worse (accepting higher risk)…