Number One** Not your ordinary, endless list – just what’s number 1.

 
  $$ Teacher Salary and Benefits $$

The Gates Foundation is pouring money into “better educational outcomes”. Lots of money. But little of it is going into the pockets of working teachers. In fact, most of it is going into designing tests, creating standardized curriculum and what I call, “fudging”, designing a system that will give improvement by the book but hides an underlying lack of learning and preparation for the future. The Gates foundation preports to know what makes a “great teacher” and thus can judge teachers, fire the bad ones and make the whole system better. Their constant refrain is that the most important factor in improving student outcome is the teacher. Very true. However, you aren’t going to do it without paying teachers well. That’s the bottom line.

The only direct factor across the board that makes an educational system strong is the support of teachers through respectable salaries, job security, benefits. The ONLY thing that works. It is the prerequisite to any reform of the system. All the nations that truly have great results according to PISA are all paying their teachers VERY well, giving them job security and benefits to rival higher income earners in their own country. As the saying goes, you have to “put your money where your mouth is”. That there is no talk of dramatically increasing teacher salaries – really speaks to how hollow their good intentions are.

You don’t need piles of fancy curriculum and glossy textbooks or blinking technology to get great student results. You also don’t need fancy buildings and an Ivy league look. Nor draconian school environments which control students behavior through brainwashing regiments of school discipline and “school pride”. You don’t need fervent testing and longer hours of study. None of this. What you do need is to pay teachers well and make them happy in their job. Attract the best – you’ll get great outcomes. It’s that simple and any other fix for education is just snake oil.

Some background. I’m a capitalist at heart. I love the fact that money created “common ground” and value where none existed before. Money, along with the wheel and the printing press (widespread literacy) is a human invention without equal. But we so often tend to think other things are causing problems and it isn’t “money” – we get sidetracked.

I began teaching as a steelworker. I “fell” into teaching, literally. Spent weeks in the hospital and woke up to become a teacher. Lots of accidents in the steel erecting industry and a lot of people trying to fix it and make it safer. But these fixes won’t work until steelworkers are paid a living, a good wage. Then safety will come and good outcomes. The metaphor works for teaching too. I watched this Frontline program last night and the metaphor hit me. In this documentary, they explore why hundreds of workers are dying while building towers so our cellphones work. Governments have been trying to do many things to stop these deaths. But they keep happening. And why? Well, these tower erectors get paid $10 an hour that’s why. No regulations will work until you pay the workers better. You’ll attract a better tower climber, one with experience and who knows how to do the job safely. Companies will have an incentive to keep the employee too. You’ll have better outcomes, less deaths – its the same with teaching. I urge you to watch the program and see how the metaphor works for teaching too.

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