There is an article out this morning that states that President Obama is proposing to credit an elite corps of master teachers, an plan that will bolster science and mathematics education in this country. It will cost approximately $1 billion dollars.
On the whole, that is a great idea. But two things caught my eye; first, it will reward high performing teachers. And how will these teachers be determined? Will we continue to use existing testing procedures which make test scores the basic measure of a teacher’s effectiveness? As I have pointed out on more than one occasion, the only way that you will ever know if someone is a good teacher is to see what happens to his or her students five or ten years after the class. Focusing on the short-term tells you nothing about what is going to happen in the long run. Maybe in a few years, after we have tested every student and know how things turned out, we can offer a correlation between test scores and success. Right now, we don’t have that capability.
Second, the money will be a stipend paid to current teachers. I see this as “soft” money, money that can disappear in a heartbeat. The problem with the science and math education reforms of the late 1960s was that when the money end, so did the reforms. Schools were expected to continue doing what was done but without the financial support provided by Congress (let’s not even discuss the current attitude in Congress about funding any program that the President suggests).
This is is not about the Department of Education and what it does or does not do. If, as the article states, there are 80 some programs designed to improve teacher effectiveness, then we probably want to combine, consolidate those programs so that funds are directed where they need to be and not to overhead and needless over-management.
This has to be about the future and our ability to think about the future in ways not yet imagined. Right now, as I have stated more times than I care to admit, we can solve problems where the answer is in the back of the book; we cannot solve problems that haven’t been created yet. And when the problem gets created, then it will be too late.
This is about our children, not about ourselves. If we care about our children, we will work to improve all the schools in this country, knowing that the money spent now will be saved in productivity later. We cannot make that statement about the educational system right now.
If we are serious about educational reform, let us make sure that we get the best people and we pay competitive salaries from the start. Right now, those that need to be teaching are elsewhere because they cannot afford to be teaching. We need to change the salary structure in our schools so that the money goes to the classroom teacher and not the administrator. We need to make sure that math and science classes have laboratories so that what is taught is used and not simply produced.
I am glad that there is a discussion about giving teachers more money. I hope that we can do it instead of just talking about it (again).