The Lobotomy of Low Wages

Economic incentives matter. This is true for teaching, as for other professions. In the words of a recent academic study examining teacher wages and student outcomes, “If you pay peanuts, don’t you get monkeys?” (hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan & Stephen Pampinella. While American public schools are still awful even after correcting for low wages (think Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey), the relationship between teacher wages and student outcomes is pretty clear:

The real decline in wages for teachers that occurred when society stopped massive de jure and de facto discrimination against women lobotomized the teaching profession.

The reason is obvious: workers have alternatives to teaching, and if you ‘tax’ teaching by paying it less, you get fewer high quality workers in it. This matters beyond just test scores: the collapse of teachers as an influential political bloc and teachers’ embrace of such agitators as Diane Ravitch may well be explained by the emergent effects of lowering the quality of teachers through paying them less.

Teachers want money, and they want it in a way that avoids measuring teacher performance. Unfortunately for teachers as a political bloc, other powerful forces have entered the debate, including powerful federal and academic institutions.

I do not think it is politically sustainable for teachers to unaccountably deliver terrible results while loudly demanding comfortable wages. In fact, I believe this political strategy is downright foolish. It is a sign that the teaching profession has suffered the lobotomy of low wages. While teachers sit like vegetables as the world pass them by, other forces are replacing them (such as this example of a move by Districts and the Federal-Academic Complex to have some students taught by professors, not teachers at all).

If teacher advocates do seriously join the debate, and contribute to a discussion of how better paid teachers can be better measured, we will get “idiot-proof teaching” scripts and the replacement of teachers by completely fungible drones.

The Bank of the Federal-Academic Complex

The battle for education reform is being occurring along three major axes — power (among States and Districts), childcare (among Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers and Parents) and money (Teachers and Publishers). Tradtionally, Teacheres were able to oversee all three of these axes through united front organizations they created — such as the NEA, AFT, NPTA, and Districts whose boardmembers were elected by the NEA, AFT, and NPTA activists. Unfortunately for Teachers, Democrats created a new power nucleus which is now overseeing a radical transformation in the teaching profession.

In 1950 President Truman created the National Science Foundation, and in 1979 President Carter created the Department of Education. As outline in Jonathan Cole’s excellent book, The Great American University, the NSF was created to use America’s excellence in the practical sciences to better society. The Department of Ed was a tentative move to subsidize teachers while removing a small amount of power from both States and Districts.

As the NSF & DOE matured together, it created a federal-academic complex unlike any other player in the political economy of education. DOE bureaucrats wanted more power, the NSF “Research Directorates” wanted more funds, the academics who won NSF grants wanted more freedom to research, all these players interacted with advocates for childcare. The Federal-Academic Complex contains interests at least as aligned as other blocs such as “teachers” or “publishers,” so is capable of political action, but it became interested in all of the axes in the education debate (power, childcare, and money), due to its diversity of operating environments.

In short, the interlocking relationships between DOE and NSF stakeholders created a federal-academic complex, or “bank.” Both Parents and Large-Scale Consumers of Education Workers were always able to translate their interest in childcare into money, but the DOE/NSF (“the federal-academic complex”) made it easier to translate their interest in money into political power over education. The same of course was true for Districts and States, who had the standing Federal-Academic complex to lobby and influence. Likewise, Teachers and Publishers could invest funds (and expected funds) harvested from education funding and translate that into power through the Federal-Academic Complex.

With the exception of States (who viewed the Federal-Academic Complex as essentially an arm of the federal government, and so focused on opposing it), every rational actor began using the bank of the Federal-Academic Complex to pursue its interests. States rationally opposed the Federal-Academic Complex, other rational players rationally used it. Teachers, suffering from the lobotomy of low wages and arrogant in their united front organizations, stupidly saw the complex simply as another source of profit and ignored the changing political landscape.

Districts put up propaganda posters in favor ofhe NSF and DOE, and fawned over funding for NSF Computer Labs and other sources of funding that could be used to weaken State power. Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers used the Federal-Academic Complex to push for a better educated workforce. Publishers, observing the possibility to increase their revenues, used the Federal-Academic Complex to push for changes that would require buying more goods and services from publishers. Parents, the easiest of all forces to satisfy, slept soundly knowing that entrance of a new force meant it was even less likely would have to care for their own children.

Politically naive teachers imagined the Federal-Academic Complex would mean higher pay without greater responsibilities. And so they voted in blocs in favor of intiatives that aggrandized the Federal-Academic Complex, and subsidized the step by step the encirclement of their own united front organizations.

The Encirclement of a United Front

According to the Communist International, a “united front” is

simply an initiative whereby the Communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie

Except for Cuba, the remaining Communist countries still have bureaucratic offices to manage the ‘United Fronts,’ which are now just shadows of their former selves. No one imagines that the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese KMT or China’s other “democratic parties” have any real power, and hence they have no legitimacy. “United Front Work Departments,” or their equivalent, exist in Vietnam and North Korea.

But as the example of North Korea shows, even a “United Front” can be encircled by hostile forces. North Korea’s incompetent leadership has acted so erratically, empathetically, and selfishly. And its emasculated United Front partners are unable to help it.

Teachers in the United States are the analog of the North Korean Kim Family Regime. US teachers have emasculated their United Front partners, alienated all but one outside force, and have allowed a massive brain drain to lobotomize their movement.


Under previous, smarter, leadership, teachers had created a United Front that remained relevant until the late 20th century.

  • Teachers allied with labor unions, even though as public workers teacher wages were paid from funds partially taken from labor. To this day, the National Education Association is the largest labor union in the United States, and the American Federation of Teachers is the second-largest.
  • Teachers allied with parents to form the National Parent-Teacher Association. While the NEA and AFT use labor-rhetoric to form alliances, the NPTA uses the rhetoric of childcare, used the rhetoric of childcare.
  • Teachers allied with Districts, using a quirk in US election law to dominate the boards. In the US, even though local elections have the greatest impact on the lives of citizens, these elections also have the lowest turn-out. Therefore, an organized minority can regularly influence the outcome of local elections. Using both individual initiative and the NEA/AFT/NPTA alliances, teachers regularly take school board seats, allowing them to also act as stake-holders in districts.

Yet this “united front” is now as worthless as North Korea’s. The labor movement union has passed the teachers by, and the main utility of the NEA and AFT seems to be to obtain divisive partisan allies (which increases the stakes greatly). Parents are lukewarm allies, as they only want to make sure nothing wrong with child care. Districts have been under assault from the States for more than a Decade, and the harm caused by Teachers to Districts influence in that fight outweigh the influence Teachers are able to exert through local elections.

Teachers have allowed themselves to become encircled.

By failing to prepare workers for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), teachers have alienated Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers. By not flattering State power, they have alienated States. By refusing to help Districts in political battles against States, they have alienated the local school boards, too. By virtue of their position as a consumer of education resources, they naturally alienate Publishers. And by refusing moves to allow the measurement of their performance, they have alienated the Federal-Academic Complex.

The encirclement of the Teacher’s united front has happened because the teaching profession has been lobotomized. Previously, highly discriminator labor norms effectively closed off many professions to ambitious women, funneling “the best and the brightest” into teaching. A small number of people may be able, for a short amount of time, to ignore their own interests for a political cause, but everyone else requires economic incentives. De facto and de jure discrimination against women in other fields had the effect of economically incentivizing smart and ambitious women into teaching. Now, however, those same incentives have the effect of moving smart and ambitious women away from teaching. As the ambition and sharpness of the teaching profession has declined, it is not surprising that this has effected the political abilities of teachers as a bloc.

The situation is not hopeless for teachers. The high-reward, high-risk movement of publicly aligning with the Democratic Party raises the possibility of a new set of political allies. But this is risky, and the agitators like Diane Ravitch appear to criticize Democrats (President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Chairman Gates) at least as much as Republicans. The old united front is now to emasculated to carry water for teachers. And teachers have shown no signs of being empathetic to other stakeholders in the education reform debate.


I don’t know what will happen to North Korea. And I don’t know what will happen to Teachers. Both groups built earlier success using a clever United Front, both emasculated their traditional partners, and both now find themselves surrounded by hostile enemies. The future of both is bleak, but not hopeless, and there’s always chance a great leader might be waiting in the wings…

They Want Money

Different forces in the education reform debate are fighting over different resources. States and school boards are fighting over power. Parents and Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers are fighting over childcare. And teachers and publishers are fighting over money.

States and School Boards both focus on power. Every organization wants to exist on its own terms, without having to bow or beg from others. Both States and school boards have the ability to raise taxes, hire and fire workers, and impact the lives of many citizens through decisions related to children. Both are naturally annoyed by the power of the other. From the perspective of states and school boards, education reform is just an opportunity for States to disempower school boards and aggrandize themselves. States have been largely successful in their struggle.

Parents and Large-Scale Consumers focus on childcare. From the perspective of parents, “childcare” means a place you that will take care of children without messing up their features while parents work. What this means depends on social class. For middle and high class parents, schools should not interfere with the natural progression of children to college or other advanced training. For low class parents, schools should not teach children to become socially awkward or talk back. Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers, by contrast, want future laborers who are highly productive (that is, can be hired with an expectation of a large return on capital)

While States v. School Boards fight over power is relatively straightforward, the fight over child-care is more complex. First, Parents are highly mobile, and can move out in and out of school boards, while Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers are immobile. (While there are often multiple local schools within driving of a job, for political reasons Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers prefer to hire in a country proportionally to its revenues from that country.) Further, Parent are risk-adverse, while Large-Scale Consumers are risk-tolerant, when it comes to individual students.

For instance, consider these two possible trade-offs

  • All students in a school become factory drones v. More students talk back to their parents
  • All students in a school go to college v. Some go to college, some start businesses, some fall behind

While the details of these trade-offs are different (low income parents see short-term costs as catastrophic, while high income parents have a future time orientation and so are risk-adverse about future events. Because of the very high rewards for education in the modern economy (as pointed out by the ‘Occupy’ movement), the difference in return-on-investment between a very highly educated worker and a college-educated worker is higher than between a college-educated worker and a high-school-educated worker, but because middle and high class parents fear that it will be their child who does not go to college, they are intolerant of policies that would allow some students to prosper and others to flail.

This fight appears to have been conceded before it began by Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers. Instead, Large-Scale Consumers and Parents seem to be working together to create a public education system that creates a floor in terms of proficiency, with Large-Scale Consumers content to allow risky decision to be made after high school graduation.

Teachers and Publishers fight over money. For both Teachers and Parents, education funding is a source of money that can be milked to support lifestyles that could not otherwise be afforded. Teacher and Publishers tend to be active in the political space in order to collect “rents” — to get States and School Boards to provide a greater return-on-investment to their efforts than could be achieved in a free market. Both Teachers and Publishers are rentiers, primarily concerned with improving their own bottom-lines at the expense of children put in their care.

States and School Boards are neutral to the outcomes of education — they simply want to control it. Parents and Large Scale Consumers of Educated Workers both want good education systems, but different in their risk tolerance. Both Teachers and Publishers are essentially parasitical to schools, seeking to divert resources obtained by States and School Boards, at the behest of Parents and Large-Scale Consumers, towards themselves away from children. (Though in the best tradition of marketing, where you take your greatest weakness and claim it is a feature, both Teachers and Publishers identify their own income as being ‘for’ children.)

Education Reform in America is largely a function of the alignment and intelligence of six forces along these three axes. The future of education reform could be predicted if we only knew who would get the power, who would define proper childcare, and who profits.

Review of “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger,” by Marc Levinson

Some time ago I read The Box, Marc Levinson’s excellent history of the shipping container. The Box reads like a third appendix to Nature’s Metropolis, a debt that the book acknowledges. It is a fascinating description of the importance of platforms in business. And it describes the different responses of labor bosses to ‘the box’ (containerization), and how those responses shape lives today. If you want to see how a technology you take for granted shapes the world, definitely read The Box!

Nature’s Metropolis is a brilliant history of Chicago and the Great West. The book focuses on economic determinism, and how once men create a ‘second nature’ from capital, actions are compelled in the same way that would have been if that build world had been the ‘first nature’ of the place. For instance, rivers make certain transportation methods logical and are part of the first nature of an environment. Railroads make other transportation methods logical, and are part of second nature. Nature’s Metropolis ends with the establishment of the national railroad system. The Box picks up the story generations later, when the railroad system appears to be just natural, and a new second nature is about to be born.

A few months ago I gave a standing-room lecture at my alma mater. I described the business of my employer as focused on platforms, the building (and selling) the infrastructure to allow other people to sell products. Platforms are the components that allow new things to be possible. For instance, wireless internet (WiFi), laptop computers, and HDTVs (TVs which double as computer monitors) allow you to repurpose any media from anywhere in the world as a ‘show’ for an extended family. This could not be done without any piece of the infrastructure — the mobile entertainment platform requires all these scaffolds. Likewise, containerization requires container-ready trucks, container-ready-ships, container-ready trains, and container-ready labor. Without any one of these, containerization is not profitable.

I remember from a young-age hearing about the six-figure salaries of longshoremen on the West Coast. Little did I realiez that this happy payscale was because of wise leadership. While the backwards International Longshoremen’s Association opposed containerization as a threat to jobs on the East Coast, the wiser International Longshore and Warehouse Union (led by a former transportation-industry manager) took a wiser coast: an agreed upon fraction of savings from containerization would go to higher salaries. If only labor agitators in the education sector could be as clever as the ILWU!

My recommendation? Read The Box. It is great introduction to economic history. It is the story of a technology platform that you may not even realize exists. And it a description of how smart unionism can lead to good lives for workers by understanding technologal chnage.

The Political Economy of Education Reform

To understand the education reform in the United States, keep one thing in mind

We judge ourselves by our intentions, and everyone else by their actions

With this truism, you can see past the anguish and propaganda, and see the education reform debate clearly for the first time.


People see their successes, and they see the good they do. More than this, they see the good they intend to do, if it were not thwarted by others, or by political necessity, or the pressures of the moment. The major forces relevant to education reform, and the good they intend to do, are as follows

  • Teachers forgo higher paying careers to nurture young. It is unfair, of course, to expect teachers to willingly teach at bad schools, so teachers try their best to teach at good schools. Publishers intend to give the young a well-rounded education, to often save them from bad environments, and to teach them how to learn on their own. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical regulations, overbearing administrators, and social factors. It is only fair that teachers have due process, tenure comfortable salaries, substantial time off, respect as professionals, and so on.
  • Publishers are in the business of transmitting knowledge on the written (and now electronic!) page at scale, a spirit-liberating calling that has been celebrated since Gutenberg. It is unfair, of course, to expect publishers to lose money in their calling, so they naturally tend towards profitable sectors. Teachers intend to give the young a well-rounded education, to often save them from bad environments, and to teach them how to learn on their own. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical regulations, overbearing publishers, and social factors. It is only fair that publishers have healthy margins, growth business opportunities, the ability to lock-in long-term contracts, and so on.
  • States are the essence of American democracy. It is unfair, of course, to expect States to surrender the powers they retain to people who have never won elections. States intend to give the young a well-rounded education, to often save them from bad environments, and to teach them how to learn on their own. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical federal regulations, overbearing voters, and social factors. It is only fair that States be immune for their actions, maintain independence from the federal government, and to be able to control the legally-created ‘creatures’ (local elected bodies and incorporated businesses) within their borders.
  • Large-scale Consumers of Educated Workers are the future of the American economy. It is unfair, of course, to expect these Consumers publishers to lose money in their calling, so they naturally tend toward hiering workers educated at public expense. Large-scale Consumers intend to revolutionize business-processes around the world through creating the careers of the future. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical regulations, incompetent suppliers, and social factors. It is only fair that Large-Scale Consumers be able to inexpensively higher workers in order to provide high Return on Capital with regards to labor, however that return is measured.
  • The Federal-Academic Complex provides the largest mass of individuals who are professionally bound to consider systematic reasons for the success and failure of American education in the country. It is unfair, of course, to expect the Complex to operate without the ability to influence the practice of education. The Complex intends to use the latest scientific techniques to understand what a good education is, and how education quality in general can increase. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical regulations, overbearing pre-existing stakeholders, and social factors. It is only fair that those in the Complex have due process, tenure comfortable salaries, substantial time off, respect as professionals, and so on.

Almost everything you read about education reform comes from one of these communities. Therefore, almost everything you read expresses the interests of one of these community. Members of each community judge themselves by their intentions, and each other by their actions.

Note that “Parents” aren’t in this list of stake-holders. The view education as a transient cost and risk center, not an essential part of life. As such, while Publishers, States, Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers, and the Federal-Academic Complex care deeply about education, High- and middle-income parents in general are happy with “good school” districts with small numbers of poor people and non-Asian minorities. Low-income parents are politically powerless anyway, and are irrelevant to a discussion of important stakeholders.

This is Genetic Epistemology

Recently, my man Jean Piaget has been burning up the twittersphere. Piaget is generally associated with “constructivism,” a very popular concept among teachers. Piaget’s theories are useful for teacher’s to know and keep in mind. They are not scientific widely used in the scientific literature. They are not worthwhile tools for policymakers. And they might be useful for politicians.

Confused? Don’t be. Instead, read on!

European psychology, for about a century, was divided between two campus, neither of which would fit comfortable within the bounds of ‘psychology’ as we know it today. One group approached psychology as a branch of applied physiology. Pavlos and his dogs, and French psychometricians who were measuring intelligence as a function of hand size, probably fit into this group. Another simply wrote philosophy and called it science. Freud, Adler, and Jung had all number of bizarre ideas, which would be classified under the term ‘mysticism’ today, and form the second camp. So European psychology was paralyzed between a group of mystics who took the mind seriously, and a group of scientists who did not.

Out of this morass came Jean Piaget, a man trained as a snail researcher with an early interest in Freud’s psychoanalysis. Of all the European “psychologists,” Piaget was thus one of the very few interested in the mind and familiar with science. This combination may have been as rare as the combination of art and technology that made Steve Jobs so influential in our lifetimes.

In either case, Jean Piaget soon develop a theory he called “genetic epistemology,” but which we call “constructivism.” Piaget identified learning as part of the species-nature of mankind. Small children, Piaget reasoned, learned to ‘think’ through physio-motor actions called ‘schemes.’ Grasping, shaking, and crying are examples of schemes. Gradually, interaction with the environment allow children to progress through ‘schemas’ (or schemata), which have mental characteristics. ‘All snails are smaller than dogs’ might be one schema. ‘All dogs are smaller than elephants’ are another.

Reasoning, according to Piaget, is the process of using schemes (or schemata) to manipulate the world. A toddler might ‘reason’ by shaking his fist, and be rewarded through a toy. The world has changed owing to the use of a scheme. An older child might reason through executing schemata. If ‘all snails are smaller than dogs,’ and ‘all dogs are smaller than elephants,’ these schemata can be manipulated to create a new ‘fact’ about the world: ‘All snails are smaller than elephants.’ (Piaget called this stage concrete-operational.)

I don’t want to spend too much time here, but eventually a learner could be expected to think logically with schemata about impossible states of affairs: ‘If all elephants are smaller than dogs, and all dogs are smaller than snails…’ ‘… all elephants are smaller than snails,’ an advanced thinker might say. ‘That is stupid,’ would say a child at the concrete-operational stage. *babble babble* the infant would scheme.

What makes Piaget important is not the specific predictions he made (which were often wrong), or his unifying European psychology (which, partially owing to the Nazis, was in a state of collapse anyway), but that Piaget provided an easy-to-explain description of the mind that focused on nurturing but also neatly matched scientific findings in developmental educational psychology.

Across the Atlantic, American psychologists were beginning to measure ‘working memory,’ the capacity for remembering unrelated bits of nonsense, and discovering that it increased as part of the developmental process. Small children, perhaps unsurprisingly, are low in terms of working memory capacity. Appropriate instruction for young children thus should not be taxing on working memory capacity. Instead, it should build up simple mental structures step by step, and getting exasperated at young children for being ‘dense’ would miss the point. As children get older they are capable of more advanced thinking.’ There is a genetic biological process that underpins this, regardless of what facts the children know. This is all similar to Piaget’s structural ideas, if harder to visualize.

That said, however, Piaget’s theory have an important shortcoming. Like Freud and like snail researchers, he was a big believer in the utility of focusing on the species-nature of his subjects. In modern psychology, this affection is shared by sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists. But much of modern psychology focuses on understanding differences, whether individual or on a group level (like the epigenetic destruction of the North Korean people under the Kim Family Regime, or differences among geographically-based human populations). People are more different from each other than Piaget thought, even and these differences should be recognized.

So what is constructivism, this genetic epistemology? Is it an outdated remnant of a dead stream of psychology? Yes. Is it useful for explaining psychology. Yes. Should policy makers use it? No. Should teachers think about it? Yes. Should politicians be exposed to it? Probably.

The (Un)Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

My post yesterday got some interesting reaction, including a link to this video called “The surprising truth about what motivates us.” The video is by Dan Pink, a journalist (but not scientist) who seems to be trying the best he can to express scientific theories about motivation.

I don’t want to pick on Pink too much, so I’ll use an early howler in the video to discuss motivation a bit

We are not as endlessly manipulable and as predictable as you would think. There’s a whole set of unbelieably interesting studies — I want to give you two — that call into question this idea that if you reward something you get more of the behavior you want and if you punish something you get less of it.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and most of it I won’t bother to try. I don’t know who Pink came across who told him people are “endlessly manipulable,” but it was more likely to be a crazy person on the street than a scientist or economist. A “reward” is often defined as a stimulus that leads to an increase in the targeted behavior, so if the “reward” does not lead to more of a behavior, it’s not a reward.

But I’ll forgive Pink for these, as the first statement just leads up to the video, and the second may be the result of terminological confusion. But the idea that a “reward” does not always leads to an increase in a behavior is painfully well known. Even the great behaviorist, B.F. Skinner, would have said that idea is stupid.

In behaviorism, animals have “drives” caused by their species-nature which they attempt to satiate through the accusition of appropriate stimuli. For instance, most species have some drive for hydration. An ant, a dog, and a human will all attempt to inbibe water in some method. But when an animal is no longer thirsty, the “reward” of water is satiated, and the animal will continue on with other drives.

Likewise, “rational choice” economics teaches that humans are driven in the persuit of well-being, and that money, leisure, social status, and other stimuli serve to satiate that drive, based on an individual’s pre-existing “preference schedule.”

But I don’t want to spend time demonstrating that Pink is completely wrong from every seriously held perspective. It’s more interesting to try to find common ground with him, and illustrate how many is important even though it is not the primary motivation for most people.

Most people are motivated to do what they are good at. Specifically, most people have a variety of goals they would like to achieve. To be powerful, popular, and respected might be three of these goals, though there are many more. Likewise, an individual has some understanding of what is required to actually achieve those goals at the given instant. Motivation can be reliable predictable in a wide variety of domains by an indiviuals’ belief, really and right now, that he can actually achieve the specific set of goals required to meet a desired objective. (This concept is referred to as self-efficacy.)

Consider the case of a man who has two objectives: he wishes to stay healthy, and he wishes to be comfortable. But this man has diabetes, and whlie he loves to eat bread, he knows the effect of bread on his insulin levels is dangerous. I don’t believe that individuals are purely driven by the calculated net present value of eating bread v. not eating bread. Rather, without the self-efficacy to avoid unhealthy foods, the individuals’ more base desire to satiate himself on bread will win.

So how would we increase self-efficacy in this case? Clinically, we would conduct a task analysis to understand what is required to really & right now maintain healike

Goal: Stay Healthy
Required Step: Recognize situations in which will-power will be limitd
Required Step: Understand socially acceptable methods of extracting oneself from temptation
Required Step: Execute pro-active steps to satiation hunger drive using less unhealthy substities

etc.

An understanding of self-efficacy allows us to understand how economic incentives work on individuals who are not “motivated by money.”

Consider a kind-hearted individuals who has several goals, such as to look-after his family, to labor in a field which is helpful to others, and to make a difference to people he has never met. Even if subject is completely non-materialistic, all of these goals are made easier through higher income. Of course, other things also make these goals easier, and in creating a reward schedule one has to be careful not to impose costs higher than the benefits of an increase in income. No one is stupid enough to believe that an increase in income always by itself leads to an increase in targetted behavior. But it is equally wrong to say that ‘good’ people are not motivated by income, or that the fact that other things can also improve self-efficacy means that financial compensation is not a part of a reasonable reward schedule.

In America, to wrap this up, we do not have a professional teaching cohort. Way too many teachers either washed out of either majors for that to be the case. Rather, we have the remnants of a professional cohort intermixed with the labor force you get when you underpay and mistreat a once-admired (if still somewhat respected) profession.

If we are serious about having students educatd by teaching professionals, we need to treat them like professionals, which includes paying them like professionals.

If we are not serious about that, we need to make idiot-proof scripts that an even-teacher teaching cohort can read during classtime.

How Professional Teachers Should Be Evaluated

On twitter some friendly folks (including Michael Josefowicz and Tobey Steeves) asked my opinion about how teachers might be evaluated in a practical sense. Good teachers should be rewarded and bad teachers should be fired, so what is the best method for doing this?

Obviously union politics and “tenure” (also called “due process”) should play no role. Schools should exist to promote an educated workforce, not provide jobs to a political rentier class.

That said, teachers are not now fungible commodities. There is no idiot-proof script a teacher can perform to create success in young people.

My approach would be to work backwards from how we view success, so we can at least begin the discussion. Some positive outcomes that we might associate with teachers are

  1. Near term: Improved grades on standardized tests
  2. Medium term: Measurable impact on early career success
  3. Long term: Creation on non-obvious chains of success

These levels would naturally correspond to junior, mid-level, and senior levels. They also assume that teachers should be viewed as professionals. Some more thoughts of how these levels could be measured are below:

  • Near-term goals, especially important for junior professional teachers, would rely on the ability to create a measurable “value-add” to test scores, whether these are state-specific, or associated with AP, CLEP, ACT, or SAT scores. A good teacher would be able to raise these scores more than a bad teacher. It would be reasonable to base pay on the ability to improve these scores, corrected for other factors. Naturally, administrators should also have their pay partially determined by these measures, and should be empowered to hire or fire teachers at will.
  • Medium-term goals could only be evaluated for teachers with some number of years of work experience. This would expand the time-frame of assessment beyond just test scores, into measures of career success. For teachers at this level, some part of their pay should be determined by their “value-add,” measured in terms of degrees, jobs, income, and other measures of success, corrected for other factors. Teachers who inspire students, not in some vague feel-good sense but in a measurable sense, to be more productive citizens should be rewarded for their efforts.
  • Long-term goals, appropriate for senior-level teachers, would involve the creation of non-obvious chains of success. This is the only level that I would be comfortable with non-objective, or “political,” measures of success. What chains of loyalty has a teacher inspired? How has this teacher improved the lives of students he or she has never met?

These methods for evaluations are appropriate for a professional labor force. To make it work teachers would have to be paid as professionals. It would also mean that H1Bs be made available for the teaching profession, so that Chinese, Indians, Russians, and other high-motivation individuals around the world can compete in the marketplace.

(On the other hand, if we as a society are unwilling to put forward the resources to make this happen, and teacher unions continue in their short-sighted effort to avoid and form of evaluations, then we can simply replace teachers with cheaper drones, give them scripts, and make them teach to the test, and evaluate them entirely on test scores.)