I've been communicating with some of my former teachers on Facebook. And I've been hearing my eldest describe her current teachers in high school. And it has all got me thinking about just how good teachers can be . . and just how bad teachers can be.
Many of you know that I'm a fan of the idea of merit pay for teachers. I'm not sure how to accomplish it fairly and practically, but I agree with the principle: good teachers should be paid better than bad teachers. They should be paid according to their value to their students. But how do we determine that value?
My husband, the businessman, will tell you that the value of a product has nothing to do with the costs incurred to produce it, or the differences between it and similar products, or anything like that -- the real value of a product is whatever a consumer is willing to pay for it. A fancy decorative tea cozy may seem like an unnecessary frivolity that accomplishes nothing of worth in society, but if someone is willing to pay half a month's salary for it, then that is its value.
So, can we use the same principle to determine a teacher's value -- that is, what he/she should be paid? Stay with me here, and hear me out before you get all huffy -- I'm just exploring an idea . . .
I contend that the people in a school community who ultimately know best which teachers are good and which are bad are the parents. (Well, the attentive parents -- we all know there are some parents that know nothing really about what's going on in their kids' lives -- factor them out of this scenario.) Parents know when a school year ends which teachers their kids actually learned from and which they didn't. And parents are usually quite willing to share their assessment with other parents -- and such parents know very well which teachers they want their kids to get for certain classes.
What if . . and again, don't freak out yet . . what if we were to allow parents to pay extra for the teachers they want their children to have? If parents had some power to choose their child's teachers, they would be even more active in seeking out information about the prospects. And the teachers who have been most successful with the most students would have the best reputations and ultimately command the best salaries. We would KNOW which teachers are good, and they would get paid accordingly.
Now, I understand that this would also mean that the wealthiest children would get the best teachers -- I'm not suggesting this as a legitimate solution to the teacher pay question. I'm just exploring the question of how to determine how much a teacher should be paid. As much as my liberal friends like to rail against the free market system, it can be very useful, and I'm wondering if there's a way to make use of its principles here . . .
More to come later, I think.