A counterintuitive take on school reform
There's a great variety of successful programs out there that are able to produce gains in learning for disadvantaged students no matter what their initial level of achievement is: KIPP [Knowledge Is Power Program] and Success for All, for example. They tend to establish high expectationsthey don't say to themselves or to the students [that] "these kids have such great difficulties that we can't really be expected to do anything with them"and they tend to have highly structured curricula.
So are you a proponent of giving schools credit under No Child Left Behind for their students' growth as well as absolute achievement?
Yes, I am. Schools really need to be judged on the value they add, the student learning that takes place. We can measure thatimperfectly, but we can measure itand we need to reward schools and educators who are able to contribute to greater learning.
What do you say to those who point to the exorbitant cost of yearly testing under NCLB as proof that schools are underfunded?
In fact, the cost of developing, administering, and reporting test results is estimated by Caroline Hoxby at Harvard to cost around $20 per pupilwhile total per-pupil spending now averages close to $10,000 nationwide. Testing is relatively cheap.
How do we get schools to use their resources better and improve results?
In general, we need to attach performance to revenues, as we do in every other field. So schools that perform better ought to be able to earn more revenue. School choice allows schools to try to improve revenue by doing a better job. Accountability systems provide incentives by attaching rewards and sanctions to the performance of students on standardized tests. Right now, schools, administrators, and teachers have noor very fewrewards or sanctions attached to whether they make wise or unwise choices. They can choose bad curricula, bad teaching approaches, bad compensation systems, and there are no consequences. Accountability and choice provide schools with incentives to use their money more effectively in ways that contribute to greater student learning: things like finding pedagogical techniques that are more effective, and identifying and rewarding excellent teachers.
You say that it's a myth that teachers are underpaid. But aren't notoriously low salaries a big part of the problem in finding and keeping the excellent people?
I have nothing against paying teachers a lot more, but we have to start that discussion with an understanding that the average teacher is making a salary that is similar on an hourly basis to what other professionals earn. They make about $31 an hour, more than civil and mechanical engineers, chemists, biologists, and accountants.
Part of our difficulty in attracting and retaining the best people in teaching is that we have flat pay scales that pay good teachers and bad teachers alike. Because we do not distinguish, we end up with an average, and this is very frustrating to successful people, who like to go into fields where their excellence is recognized and rewarded. Right now, teachers work harder only out of their goodwill. Luckily, we have a lot of teachers of goodwill out there, but you can't run an entire system on goodwill. You have to reward people for excellence. The most important thing in improving educational achievement is improving teacher quality.