By way of Brad Delong, I stumbled across this column by Washington Post editor Ruth Marcus calling for merit pay for teachers. Centrist Democrats, particularly those who suffer from a touch of Compulsive Centrist Disorder, have been pushing this since the early 80s. And it makes no sense to me.
When I think about science education, these are the areas that I think need dramatic improvement:
1) Fully equipped science laboratories. You actually have to do some science occasionally.
2) Funding for the occasional trip to a museum, nature preserve, or science lab.
3) Smaller class sizes. Anyone who has taught at any level recognizes the importance of class size.
4) Better overall facilities.
5) Hiring science teachers who actually have scientific training. That’s going to require money.
6) Related to the previous point, science teachers need opportunities to continue their training, with a focus on how to use that information back in the classroom.
7) A national curriculum. Right now, we don’t have a U.S. educational system; we have thousands of local systems. Why, when Europe is beginning to creep into the post-nation state era, do we have a localized educational system.? Is our system better than EU educational systems? While I don’t think U.S. students ARE DOOOMMMMEEDD, a fractured system does impose costs. Every time a student moves and switches schools, that student risks falling behind or being unprepared.
Oh, I forgot another one:
8) Don’t teach sectarian dogma as science.
That might help too.
Obviously, rewarding good teachers and penalizing bad teachers would be good. Unfortunately, no one has proposed good solutions for doing this. And yes, poorer schools will have more bad teachers. But most teachers aren’t bad teachers. Despite Garrison Keillor’s joke, ninety percent can’t be in the top ten percent. They’re average or good, and what they need to be better is support–that is, funding. Support that can be given at the federal level to do the things I’ve listed above.
None of the merit pay proponents ever ask: is merit pay the best way to support and help teachers?