Last month I published an invited commentary in Teachers College Record, a peer-reviewed education journal from Columbia University. The content will be familiar to readers of this blog — I mention the political economy of education reform, the federal-academic complex, and our failure to educate young people.
The reasons for these failures are many. When the American workplace was desegregated along sex lines, the subsidy of cheap female labor that American K-12 schools had received disappeared. Teacher salaries have not kept up, and the low-to-mediocre pay society provides to teachers is answered in the quality of education that society receives in return. Teaching is no longer a womanâ€™s profession â€“ a feminine analog to the legal field â€“ but an artisan craft â€“ in which apprenticeship counts for more than theory. Teachers are not professionals who are entrusted to work without supervision for the best interests of their clients. Rather, they are artisans â€“ skilled laborers â€“ who use practical expertise and learned talent to practice their craft
Additionally, safeguards that made sense when teaching was a profession that attracted high-quality workers do not make sense now that many see teaching as a back-up plan. Academic tenure, a reliance on teachers writing their own lesson plans, the absence of individual accountability, the lack of pay-for-performance or even piecemeal reward schemes, and other accouterments from the past are not appropriate for artisans even if they were once appropriate for professionals. Given the increasing importance of the knowledge economy, something has to give.
Teachers colleges should not change how they conduct research. They are already brilliant at that. Rather, teachers colleges need to change how they teach. They do not produce world-class professionals now, so little is lost by changing teaching methods. But nor do they produce world-class artisans, so much can be gained.