Results-Free Education

In California, Governor Jerry Brown has helped make it nearly impossible to tell whether teachers are performing or not. This type of thing is of course not new–teachers unions regularly oppose performance-based criteria. With the increasing sophistication of data collection, however, it has become harder for them to resist. From the linked article:

Brown was heavily backed in the 2010 election by the powerful California Teachers Association, and, soon after his election, he tipped his hand by appointing a CTA lobbyist to the state school board. His most recent gift to the CTA: as the new state budget takes shape, he is refusing to approve funding for the state’s educational data system, which links data on students and teachers, generates a ton of information on performance and its possible determinants—and (gasp) makes it possible to evaluate how much learning is actually going on in each teacher’s classroom. Just what the CTA doesn’t want.

Why would a teachers union not want its members to be evaluated on the basis of performance? For the same reason that any union squelches individualism–it takes away its power. More precisely, it takes away the power of the union leadership, whose motives in this case seem to be far removed from the welfare of the student. When an individual teacher stands out, it raises questions about the performance of others. When an individual is rewarded for high performance, the union fears that employees will be tempted to negotiate on the basis of what they can do as individuals rather than what the union says they ought to do. Kill the individual, kill the threat.

One argument against evaluating teacher performance on the basis of the actual learning that occurs in the classroom is that it is unfair. Teachers cannot fully control the outcome. I know I would hate to be evaluated on that subset of students I have each year who are determined not to exert any honest effort whatsoever. Yet what person in any field of work can fully determine outcomes? I get some weak students. Farmers who use the best methods still have to rely on rain. Football players have to rely on teammates and referee calls. The best-laid plans of anyone anywhere doing anything are subject to the vagaries of the rest of the Universe. Why is this a problem for teachers?

The answer is that it should not be. A teacher sending out incapable students year after year should not be in the classroom. Conversely, those who send out competent ones consistently should be rewarded. The days of union thuggery are drawing to a close. Taxpayers will not tolerate results-free education much longer. The only question is how much damage teachers unions are willing to inflict on children before that happens.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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1 Response to Results-Free Education

  1. Eli Adams says:

    The outcomes of teacher pay should be based on elements they can control, regardless of whether they are union or private school teachers. I am not fundamentally opposed to unions. I am glad people have the right to organize. What our education system needs is a Serenity Prayer ephipany. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There is no point in blaming and punishing teachers for things they cannot control, unless you just want some free hand in bashing people you don’t like for reasons other than their performance. If you really want to improve the system, isolate the elements teachers cannot control, experiment with ways to improve them, monitor the results, and keep making improvements to those specific problem areas.


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