Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Steve Jobs takes on teacher unions

Steve Jobs spoke recently on education reform and demonstrated what an entrepreneur understands about creating a successful operation that the education bureaucracy doesn't.
Steve Jobs has guts — enough guts to speak his mind about what he thinks is wrong with public education even at the risk of harming his business interests.

In a speech on Friday, the chief executive officer of Apple and Disney honcho declared: "I believe that what's wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way."

The problem with unionization, Mr. Jobs argued, is that it has constrained schools from attracting and retaining the best teachers and from dismissing the less effective ones. This, in turn, deters quality people from seeking to become principals and superintendents. "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good? Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, ‘I can't win,'" Mr. Jobs said. He concluded by saying, "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."
Teacher unions oppose any sort of merit pay because that would mean that some teachers would earn more than others. Teachers wouldn't want to give all students the same grade regardless of quality yet that is the attitude they adopt for their own pay.

Of course, the real problem with merit pay is how to determine which teachers are good and which ones aren't. I bet that at any school, you could survey teachers, students, parents, and administrators and come up with a decent consensus on which teachers were good and which ones weren't. But there would be some anomalies. Students might prefer the easy teacher rather than the one who challenged them. Some parents might have the same attitude. Administrators might prefer the teachers who volunteered to take on extra duties without complaint. But, in general I think that people know who is a quality teacher and who isn't. But that isn't quantifiable. How do you base a pay system on such gut feelings?

What most public schools have now is a matrix on which teachers are evaluated. Do they have a good five-point lesson plan that hits all the standard points of a lesson? Any experienced teacher can put one of those together in time for an administrator observation.

I'm all for merit pay, but I have doubts about bureaucrats coming up with any formula to determine who exactly merits that pay.

My daughter has a lot more on the difficulties of merit pay.