Friday, November 13, 2009

An Interesting Case in Chicago

A little bit of education trivia for you: Chicago area schools have one of the largest gaps in teacher salaries in the country. For instance, the teachers in Oak Brook make an average of over $80,000 a year while the teachers in Grayslake make an average of about $38,000 a year. Pretty striking difference. Yet, despite this yawning gap in salaries, the students in these two areas appear to be performing at roughly the same level. That's interesting to me on two levels.

First, isn't it an article of faith among the idealocrats that higher pay for teachers (particularly if it comes in the form of merit pay) is supposed to equal better results for kids? I've never liked that argument terribly. True, you may attract more high fliers to teaching if the pay is better. But the idea that teachers are just not motivated to get kids to learn unless you dangle a carrot in front of them never rang true to me. During my time as a teacher, there was literally no amount of money you could pay me to work harder because I was already going all out. I still wasn't a great teacher and more money wouldn't have made the difference. But I digress. The real lesson here is that more money for teachers doesn't necessarily equate to more achievement for kids.

The second point that comes to me is that more experience doesn't necessarily seem to make a difference either. As the article points out, more time in the classroom (and more advanced degrees) tends to equal higher pay in the teaching profession. That's one reason the Oak Brook teachers get paid more. Yet those extra years of experience and additional diplomas also don't seem to be making a difference. The young turks in Grayslake seem to be doing just fine. Take notice all of you who say that we need to do more to value experienced teachers and ignore those young ones coming up because they aren't going to be as good.

I hate to write a post where I just tear down other people's ideas without offering up something productive of my own. So here it is. If there is a single way to predict and foster better teachers, we haven't found it yet and it may not exist. That doesn't mean we should stop trying to improve our teaching force. It does mean that we should stop looking for a single silver bullet that's going to improve all of our schools. It's just not that simple.

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