With the Atlanta school system reeling in the aftermath of a widespread cheating scandal, and hundreds of Washington D.C. teachers fired last week following poor performance reviews, the debate over how teachers should be evaluated, rewarded, and reprimanded continues. In The Washington Post, Howard Gardner, a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, says that offering financial rewards to teachers who perform well isn't the solution to our schools' many problems. Rather, teachers should be treated as true professionals, just like doctors or lawyers. They shouldn't be rewarded or punished for students' test results, but should instead be paid a fair salary, and expected to perform their job well. Here an excerpt:
"What are the right incentives to have in place for teachers?" The very question itself is jarring. It implies that teachers don't want to perform well and that they need incentives, which in today's parlance translates into rewards (money) and reprimands (fear of loss of benefits or position).
Let me present a very different picture: Teachers should be regarded as and behave like professionals. A professional is a certified expert who is afforded prestige and autonomy in return for performing at a high level, which includes making complex and disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty. Professionals deserve to live comfortably, but they do not enter the ranks of a profession in order to obtain wealth or power; they do it out of a calling to serve. Be it law, medicine, auditing, education or science, the expectation is the same: professionals should work hard to gain the requisite credentials, behave ethically as well as legally, and when they err, should take responsibility for their error and try to learn from it.