Good teachers make colleagues better

Effective teachers don’t just help their students improve, conclues a new study reported in Education Week. Good teachers help colleagues teach better.

C. Kirabo Jackson and Elias Bruegmann analyzed 11 years of data on North Carolina schoolchildren for their study, which will be published in Applied Economics, a peer-reviewed journal.

Merit pay incentives should focus on rewarding school teams, not individuals, said Jackson, who teaches labor economics at Cornell.

“If you give the reward at the individual level, all of a sudden my peers are no longer my colleagues — they’re my competitors. If you give it at the school level, then you’re going to foster feelings of team membership, and that increases the incentive to work together and help each other out.”

Some merit-pay plans do reward the entire school staff — from principal to P.E.  teacher to janitor.

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  1. I am sure that the underlying claim here is true: Teachers do better in the company of a good teacher. Your link specifies several plausible reasons, but I would add that a successful teacher simply proves that success is a possibility. In many rural and urban districts, the possibility of success seems rather obscure on the front lines.

    However, rewarding the group (or entire school) is likely to have even more perverse effects than merit pay for the individual teacher.

    The pressure towards corrupt practices is already overwhelming. The message from above is clear: Make the classroom grades look good. Teach to the test. Stretch the truth when grading standardized exams. (Many supposedly authoritative studies are based on exams scored by teachers within the school, often the classroom teacher.) Find creative ways to report results. Use 504 and IEP designations either as an excuse not to count the results, or as a reason to report success where success did not occur.

    These practices are as widespread and as steroids in sports.

    However, many individual teachers resist; some verbalize the need to resist. At the present, these resisters are seen in a positive light by colleagues, who tend to be bitter over the dishonesty, even when they give in to some extent themselves.

    Merit pay for individuals will make it tougher for individuals to find the self discipline to retain their integrity, but it will not do much to undermine their standing among their peers.

    Now, imagine that the entire building’s pay for next year is based on the individual’s willingness to cheat.

    You would not know it from listening to the national education debate among policy makers, but honesty in reporting results is one of the most important issues in high schools today. Cynical education leaders would use group rewards as a tool to break the current resistance.

    Of course, the results would look much improved, and the national press would report a sweeping success.

    The pressure towards

  2. It’s perfectly possible to have merit pay reward the entire school while still recognizing individual teachers. It’s done in the corporate world all the time.

    The basic idea is that there is a bonus pool funded based on the performance of the company/business unit. Within that, the pool is divvied up by individual performance.

    This, of course, depends on agreeing to evaluation criteria. As we’ve seen with past threads here, that’s a hot topic.

  3. Another way to read the study is that teachers have more potential than they are putting to use. Teachers who are lucky enough to work with a teacher with exceptional performance some how find a way to learn from the exceptional teacher. And somehow this effect is stronger than the effect of formal teacher induction programs. So maybe if we give beginning teachers more freedom in how they structure initial on the job training and couple that with more rigorous tenure requirements that will be incentive enough for them to seek out the exceptional teachers.

  4. PM,

    That only works if the exceptional teachers are accessible to them.

    I doubt this effect occurs outside of those who have face to face contact with the really strong teachers.

  5. when I studyed in my senior, my English teacher is worse,so my English is so worse.But when I study in my college,I have a good English teache,so I think I am lucky.

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