F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
May 28, 2000
It Makes Sense to Grade Teachers Too

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Students should be graded on their performance in school, and so should teachers!

"The 'teacher shortage' is one of the education establishment's excuses for urban school failure," observes Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute. He notes that teachers unions reject "radical reforms such as vouchers or charter schools" and refuse "to hold teachers accountable for their performance. Just give us enough money to compete for the most qualified teachers [they say], and city schools will do as well as suburban schools."

In the current issue of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, Stern rejects the unions' habitual demand for across-the-board teacher pay raises and argues instead that "New York City can ensure a supply of competent teachers through streamlined certification guidelines that would encourage well-educated persons to consider teaching as a career." He recommends "reinventing the teachers' contract," which he describes as "an inflexible, rules- driven document that perpetuates a culture of complacency and mediocrity in the schools."

Stern acknowledges that "the Board of Education has been moving to end automatic social promotion for students. But the labor contract institutionalizes a destructive system of social promotion for teachers," he asserts. "Once they have a state license, teachers receive pay increases irrespective of how hard they work or how much their students learn. Teachers can also add to their salaries by accumulating more useless school credits," Stern reports. "Yet there isn't a shred of evidence that students benefit when their teachers take all those extra ed courses." He suggests eliminating "the extra-pay boondoggle for education credits past the master's degree. Take the money saved and sprinkle it among those teachers deemed actually to have improved student performance."

Stern points out that the New York City school teacher's abbreviated work day "adds up to some 950 hours per year, or about half of what an average American wage earner works. It is time to remove the six-hour-20-minute standard from the contract," he advises, "and instead allow principals to make sure teachers spend however long it takes to correct homework, prepare lessons well, and deal with parents. Teachers should also have to report in at least a week before school opens in order to do some essential planning. The new contract should also mandate that the city comptroller's office regularly monitor teacher hours."

Stern points out that "New York City principals no longer enjoy tenure rights. They are now on renewable contracts," he observes, "like middle managers in any other enterprise. But, if this new system of accountability is to work, it has to spread down through the whole system," Stern stipulates. "If district superintendents and the chancellor are to evaluate principals on their performance, the principals, in turn, must be given the authority to manage their own workforce. That means hiring and removing teachers on the basis of their performance and making classroom assignments on the basis of the needs of the children rather than the seniority rights of the teachers. It means giving higher pay for excellent performance, not for years of service. The current contract," he concludes, "denies all of this essential authority to principals."

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