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What Would It Look Like If Teachers Were Treated Like Professionals?

Last week I argued that part of treating teachers like professionals means breaking the rigid union-mandated tenure-track:

The old liberal slogan always demanded that we "treat teachers like professionals." That entails some measure of accountability -- we can debate the metrics -- which allows both that very bad teachers be fired and that very good ones can obtain greater pay and recognition. That's the definition of a professional career track, and the current absence of it is what drives most of the best college graduates into other professions.

Mark Palko objects:

Putting aside the compensation question for the moment, Chait is listing being easy to fire as part of the definition of being a professional. Does anyone else find that a bit odd?

Andrew Gelman is deeply impressed with this objection. I think Palko's point is pretty obviously just wordplay, but I suppose I didn't express myself as well as I could have. Being a professional, to most people, means having the opportunity to gain higher pay and recognition with greater success. Such a system also, almost inevitably, entails the possibility of having some consequences for failure. Teaching is very different than most career paths open to college graduates in that it protects its members from firing even in the case of gross incompetence, and it largely denies them the possibility to rise quickly if they demonstrate superior performance.

Obviously the realistic possibility of being fired for gross incompetence would not in and of itself do much to attract more highly qualified teachers, but the opportunity to receive performance-differentiated pay would.