Nicholas Kristoff advocates paying teachers more money to improve education. This definitely has face-value appeal, despite the hype of overpaid teachers. That said, I think teachers are underpaid. However, the Wall Street rationale is that teachers are in it for the money – because really who isn’t in this world? – and that by offering them more money you attract the “better” teachers. This is neoliberalism plain and simple. What’s more frustrating is Kristoff goes on to suggest
…it makes sense to cut corners elsewhere to boost teacher salaries. Research suggests that students would benefit from a tradeoff of better teachers but worse teacher-student ratios. Thus there are growing calls for a Japanese model of larger classes, but with outstanding, respected, well-paid teachers.
The question remains what qualifies as student achievement and quality of education, but I think Kristoff champions a spreading attitude that economic out-put is a relevant metric (or at least concern) for assessing our teachers. I don’t think this means we’ll be seeing teachers directly assessed on the economic fortunes of their students down the road, but it is unsettling to see the background chatter of education shift more toward the economic and productivity. It may sound sensationalist, but I think it forms an ideological backdrop against which more productivity-oriented policies and practices gain acceptance. The difference this will make on teachers is hard to say, but these are tropes of Wall Street: equivocating quality with monetary quantities and growth-productivity-and-more-growth.
I wish I could say “needless to say,” because it seems to need saying: if we want better, more dedicated and passionate teachers, we shouldn’t focus on giving them more money but on restructuring (if not in some ways eliminating) the relationship between income, security, comfort and all around well-being. I don’t think most good teachers are in it for the money, and would-be good teachers don’t avoid going into education because it isn’t lucrative, but because there’s hell to pay in this society if you aren’t given to filthy lucre.