The National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the United States, unveiled a 45-page document calling for a “new federal role” in education at its July convention in Washington, D.C. The NEA proposes “Transforming America’s Public Schools: A Five- Year [sic] Initiative … to have great public schools for every student by 2020.”
Not surprisingly, the primary way that the union wants to change the federal role in education is by having it spend more tax money. The document calls for quadrupled federal funding for educational research and development and the creation of a new federal agency, the National Institute of Educational Research, for example, as well as expanded and expensive programming and oversight.
But amid all these recommendations, nearly all light on innovation and heavy on spending, the plan disregards those market-based reforms that have solid track records in improving education.
The NEA calls for teachers’ compensation that is “competitive with other professions requiring similar education and skill and working conditions … conducive to teaching and learning”.
These recommendations do seem reasonable, but the NEA’s leadership continues to stand in firm opposition to linking teacher pay to student achievement in any way, as both major Presidential candidates have proposed. The NEA’s agenda also rejects paying teachers based on their real-world experience or areas of expertise —thereby maintaining America’s shortage of good math and science teachers. In other words, the NEA rejects the commonsense, market-based approach to compensation that determines how most parents and tax-payers are paid.
In the market economy, productive employees receive higher compensation than non-productive employees, and workers with expertise in high-demand fields are rewarded with higher pay than those without such expertise. In the interests of both fairness and effectiveness, teachers should be paid on the same basis that many tax-paying parents are paid. Bigger salaries should go to hire and retain those who perform the best, who have expertise in complex, in-demand subject areas, and who are willing and able to produce results in the challenging schools where they are most needed.. Despite the NEA’s opposition, this approach would actually be good for teachers because it would reward them for doing the best work in the most challenging classrooms.
The NEA also insists on worsening the already prohibitive barriers that prevent mid-career professionals from becoming teachers. The union calls for “high entry and practice standards developed by the members of the profession, consistent and clear processes for granting licensure, and strict adherence to restricting practice to those who have licensure”. This exclusionary policy is especially harmful at the high-school level, where there’s no substitute for a teacher’s own competence in advanced material, but it keeps new teachers out of classrooms at all levels.. For example, a mother who has left the full-time workforce but would like to contribute her accumulated expertise by instructing a class or two on a part-time basis, or a retired person who would love to teach on a volunteer basis, can find these barriers to entry prohibitive. Instead of ensuring high-quality professionals, inflexible barriers to entry tend to protect sub-par veterans, at the expense of promising new recruits.
The document also calls for developing models for educational improvement and for holding a White House Summit on Education. Certainly, learning from models is a good way to improve practices in any profession.
But the union refuses to accept the market-based options that are already working for many American families, such as charter schools. Students in charter schools consistently score better – across all grades – on math and reading tests than their counterparts in regular public schools. Charter schools have meant the salvation of thousands of children in Louisiana, where public school students consistently earn the lowest scores on national achievement tests, for example. Instead of rejecting these innovative schools, any comprehensive program for educational reform should look long and hard at their success for lessons and strategies to adopt and adapt. An open approach like this, which embraces all models, could relieve much teacher frustration by implementing solutions gleaned from the most successful schools.
Over and over again, market mechanisms outperform the federal government in improving needed products and services. Anyone who wants truly great schools for America’s children should embrace market-based reforms.
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