Don't hire the lemons

It’s very difficult to predict who’ll be an effective teacher until the new hire starts teaching, writes Ray Fisman on Slate. The usual surrogates — a teaching credential or a master’s degree — don’t predict whether a teacher’s students will do better or worse than expected. But, once hired, it’s hard to get rid of teachers who just aren’t very good. He suggests a few years of in-service training for would-be teachers before they get a union card and all the protections that come with it.

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  1. Miller Smith says:

    You will have to raise the starting salary greatly for the new hires if you deny them union protection. With the high cost of college more and more people purposfully avoiding teaching as a career due to low return on the cost of that degree.

    Raise more barriers you get less of what you want. And what do we want? We want the smartest and with highest ability to teach our children and we what them to be proven. Why go through entery to teaching with so much more lucrative careers that don’t treat you this way?

    Teaching is an easy vocation. I would not have gone into it were it not for having to devote so much time to my ill wife.

  2. The best kept secret around is that until they’re tenured, even union teachers don’t have any “rights” or protections to speak of. Heck, they don’t even get due process–just a pink slip, no reason needed.

    It would be more *honest* if they were denied union membership until they were tenured and the union would actually do something for them.

  3. siwels196 says:

    Right on Darren – I have been in contact with manay a state representative to even get new teachers “regular” employment protections aforded all other jobs. Still no action. But the teacher’s union will hapily take your money for several years even though they will not and can not do anything if the district wants to get rid of you.

  4. Miller Smith says:

    Great idea Darren! New teacher pay the same dues as tenured teachers and have no protections at all. Why should they pay the union anything?

  5. Darren, even new teachers get legal representation via the union.

  6. mjtyson says:

    I don’t think teaching’s lower popularity among college students has much to do with pay, but more to do with the perception that teaching has lower status than other jobs. If we make teaching more selective, with a few years of having to prove oneself and then a corresponding increase in benefits, maybe teaching would be more comparable to other professions.

  7. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Also, (as a former teacher) teaching is HARD. You have to bring work home with you. It constantly eats at your mind. And beingt responsible for the well-being of so many kids (100 or more, if you teach high school) is INCREDIBLY draining.

    Sure you get summers off, but you need them to recover.

    My husband and I have both worked 9-5 jobs and as teachers. Teaching is a lot more grueling then other jobs that require similiar education– especially if you care how the students do!

  8. Bob Diethrich says:

    The article does make a valid point that is a major obstacle in any kind of in-school reform. When those teachers are removed from that school in Queens, they just get reassigned or find jobs on their own IN SOME OTHER SCHOOL, thus lowering the achievement and scores there. Until the entire profession improves its standards these kind of successes will be on a school to school, or distric to district basis only.

  9. Ragnarok says:

    “We want the smartest …”

    No, I don’t think so. For the most part we want moderately intelligent, articulate, patient people who’re good with kids.

  10. > With the high cost of college more and more people purposfully avoiding teaching as a career due to low return on the cost of that degree.

    There’s an unexamined assumption there that’s about as big as the broad side of a barn.

    Does it really take a bachelor’s degree to learn enough about teaching to teach *at*all? Not some specialty like spec ed or high school AP physics/math but just to get certified? It doesn’t matter does it? No certification? No job. No degree? No certification.

    The other way to look at the situation is that the requirements of certification have nothing to do with the demands of the job so the cost of entry is high enough to keep people out, especially people who are capable of acquiring a degree that prepares them for a higher-paying job.

  11. Teaching early elementary school (certainly k-3, probably 4-5) should not require a BA egree. Normal school (one year of post-HS training) used to be the norm. I had 3 of those teachers and all were excellent and capable of teaching phonics, math, spelling, handwriting, geography, reading and literature, plus a good dose of art and music appreciation (classical and folk). All 3 were better than the new college graduate who replaced the normal school graduate who had taught 3rd grade for about 50 years (yes, seriously). However, that model assumes a solid k-12 education and a strong, practical post-HS year. In modern terms, a good community college could do the job, except for some specialists – spec ed, math, reading – for those needing specific help.

    Needless to say, pay should be different than for the higher grades and the hard-to-find subjects (math/science). Also, no pay for a master’s degree unless the job REALLY requires one – ridiculous to pay a third-grade teacher for a master’s degree (or better – some districts give doctorate pay to any teacher who has 60 course hours beyond the master’s). Put the money only where needed.

    I don’t think getting el ed teachers would be a problem if the schools were made safe and problem students appropriately disciplined/expelled and a strong DI/core knowledge curriculum, with homogeneous classes, was in place.

  12. Joanne,

    Fisman doesn’t know much about unions, apparently, and I’m surprised you repeated the basic error: union membership doesn’t change the rights an employee has under a collective bargaining agreement.

  13. Mrs. Davis says:

    It’s even more difficult to predict who will be an effective teacher 10, 20 or 30 years hence. That’s why tenure is such a problem.

  14. Darren is right. It’s absolutely true that without tenure you can be let go for pretty much any reason, or pretty much no reason. So the union membership is moot in that sense.

    In fact, before I had tenure, when I lost jobs the union did absolutely nothing whatsoever for me. However the union, in NYC at least, provides benefits for dental, prescription and eyeglass coverage, which can be pretty valuable.

    Really, it’s on the city to enforce existing tenure laws, and to decline to hire or retain teachers who can’t teach, teachers who can’t control kids, teachers who can’t speak any discernible language, teachers who don’t bathe, teachers who sit in front of their classes eating breakfast cereal and reading the boxes to see what neat stuff they can send away for, etc. and so forth.

    The problem in the city is, unlike surrounding suburbs, they’ve refrained from enforcing existing laws for 30+ years. Suburbs here get rid of clunkers well before there’s any talk of tenure. The city is subject to the very same laws.

    You’re absolutely right that credentials and MA degrees don’t predict quality. Every dismissed Long Island teacher I’ve met had both. But failure to pass basic competency tests, IMO, is an excellent predictor for failure, and NYC has hired thousands of such teachers. In fact, one of the very first things Joel Klein did as Chancellor was go to Albany and procure the right to hire and retain about 14,000 such teachers.

    Now he and Mr. Fisman are shocked that failure to follow existing regulations for decades have consequences.

    It’s ironic, because as a high school teacher (and a parent), I’m perpetually trying to show kids their actions have consequences.

  15. I don’t think getting el ed teachers would be a problem if the schools were made safe and problem students appropriately disciplined/expelled

    So what comes next for an elementary student who is expelled?

  16. Charles R. Williams says:

    “It’s very difficult to predict who’ll be an effective teacher until the new hire starts teaching”

    If this is true, then we need to lower the barriers to entry. It simply costs too much and takes too long to get to that first teaching job.

    We should also look at how teachers are trained. One summer of education theory followed by a year of closely supervised apprenticeship should be enough to determine if a person would be an effective teacher. The second summer would be devoted to reflection on the past year and more practical aspects of teaching in particular school settings.

  17. Walter E. Wallis says:

    One big shock early in my supervisory experience was the reluctance some supervisors have to make use of the probationary period. Administrators must show the capability of evaluating probationers, to the extent they are evaluated based on how few misfits make it past them.

  18. > It’s very difficult to predict who’ll be an effective teacher until the new hire starts teaching, writes Ray Fisman on Slate.

    Is someone attempting to predict teacher effectiveness? What an odd pursuit since it’s hardly settled that it’s a good idea to determine whether a practicing teacher’s effective.

  19. Andy Freeman says:

    > get new teachers “regular” employment protections aforded all other jobs.

    What protections do you think that “all other jobs” have?

    The vast majority of employment in the US is “at will”, which means that folks can be fired for almost any reason, with no notice or recourse. (The exceptions have to do with prohibited discrimination, such as on the basis of race.)

    Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, but they’re mostly union jobs, which are a shrinking minority. Those “protections” are contracts, not law. And, when GM goes under, those jobs go away no matter what the contract says.

    However, thanks for demonstrating once again that teachers don’t know how employment in the real world works.