Teachers can follow the private-sector model — pay for performance — if they have the right productivity tools, argues Merrill Vargo of the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative.
Improvement and innovation bloom in any industry when the people doing the work — that means both managers and line workers — benefit from four crucial ingredients:
Incentive to do better.
Access to the best ideas about what successful competitors are doing.
Real-time data about current performance.
The flexibility to make needed changes.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s merit pay proposal provides incentives, writes Vargo. But teachers need more.
First, access to the best ideas. The private sector calls this benchmarking. Business leaders take for granted that if you want to improve something, you start by looking at what your peers are doing. Pepsi studies Coca-Cola; Burger King scrutinizes McDonald’s. But people who work in schools rarely get this privilege. Most teachers work all day in their classrooms without the benefit of peer feedback or advice from experts in their field.
In the private sector, leading companies routinely invest in professional development. But in public education, professional development is the first thing on the chopping block when budgets get tight.
Next up: Provide teachers with real-time data about how their kids are doing. Again, no business would expect to increase quality without a system to measure daily and weekly progress. But we don’t do that in education.
Students are tested once a year on state standards, and teachers wait months for the results. There are “quickly administered diagnostic assessments” with instant results on the market, but most schools don’t earmark funding for them.
Finally: Give educators the flexibility to make necessary change. So far, none of the much-vaunted flexibility to innovate enjoyed by charter schools has rubbed off on the rest of the school system.
BASRC folks are liberals. Smart liberals. It’s significant that Vargo is supporting data-driven improvement in teaching and linking teacher pay to student achievement. This wouldn’t have happened a few years ago.
See Eduwonk for the latest on reactionaries defending the status quo in California. The reactionaries are union-dependent Democrats, writes Eduwonk. Their victims are Democratic reformers.
Virginia Postrel’s political split —dynamists who can handle disruptive change versus stasists who can’t — increasingly applies to education. It’s not really a question of left or right, Democrat or Republican. It’s about people who are willing to try whatever it takes to educate kids and people who focus on defending the existing system,.