A Recommendation for Teachers’ Unions

Teachers Unions should Transform into a Professional Organization like the AMA and ABA.

The next step in improving education and protecting teachers is for teachers unions to form into a professional organization like the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association.

Teacher unions are an industrial institution for an industrial educational system. Famous for fighting reform, embarrassing US scores on the PISA test — a respected, world-wide educational achievement test — and in the face of overwhelming public pressure, perhaps best summed up in the film “Waiting for Superman” and echoed by President Obama, teachers unions have begun to compromise.

Current Reforms: Evaluation, Pay, and Tenure

There are three major reforms that teachers’ unions are beginning to embrace.

  1. Evaluation — Evaluating teachers based on student performance on standardized tests and common core standards
  2. Pay — Basing teacher pay on their evaluation with some weights and coefficients for being in a poor or underserved district.
  3. Tenure — Right now tenure can be used to keep bad teachers in front of students. Reformers propose modifying tenure to protect a teacher’s position but still make it possible to remove a teacher that is performing poorly.

These are absolutely excellent reforms, but they won’t make us the best in the world. What is next to make US teachers the best in the world?

The Best of the Best

Perhaps not surprisingly research shows that the best education comes from the best teachers. The top 10% of teachers can teach 3x more content than the bottom 10%, and disparities from race and poverty virtually disappear in the classrooms of the best 30% of teachers. So how do we get the best teachers in the world?

The best teachers have three qualities:

  1. Best to Begin With — The best teachers are some of the smartest people you know who choose to become teachers.
  2. High Level of Training — Not surprisingly if you give the best training to the most talented candidates, you get great teachers.
  3. Autonomy — Teaching is a creative job, and like the best creative workers, the best teachers have high standards (core standards and standardized tests) but otherwise have a lot of autonomy to reach and exceed beyond those standards.

So how do we get the best and brightest to choose to become teachers, receive high levels of training, and then give them the autonomy to do great things?

The Solution

We don’t have to look far for a model for the solution. Professional organizations for doctors and lawyers — the AMA and the ABA — have created an environment in our society where the best and the brightest are just dying to be doctors and lawyers (despite the risks, long hours, enormous debt, and even some times surprisingly low pay). How did they do this?

  1. Establish and Accredit Special T-Schools — Like law schools and medical schools, a hypothetical ATA or American Teachers Association, should begin accrediting a new sort of program for teachers at a limited number of universities across the country. This new program should be modeled on law and medical school and have low acceptance rates of only the best candidates. These programs should also offer a new terminal applied education degree different from a masters or a PhD in education: an Educatoris Doctor — an ED. That way people can say “I earned by ED at Harvard”, the way people say “I earned by MD/JD at Harvard”. Or “I’m getting my ED/PhD in education”. This would mean they are a dedicated practitioner and researcher in education.
  2. Regulate Graduation Rates — The AMA regulates medical school attendance intentionally to train just enough doctors to keep our medical system to work in order to keep doctor wages high and protect the prestige of the role. Currently the US trains 250% the number of teachers needed. This debases teachers’ salaries and the prestige of being a teacher.
  3. “Unhood” Bad Teachers— The AMA and the ABA will take away the medical license from doctors and disbar lawyers who demonstrate unethical or incompetent behavior. A powerful ATA organization should unhood a teacher who demonstrates unethical or incompetent behavior. Thus further protecting and building up the prestige of the profession.
  4. Teaching Assistants — Much like paralegals and physician assistants and nurses, there should be a lower, but established, level training for teachers assistants who can teach under the supervision of a fully trained teacher. This role will emerge naturally, I believe, as we make EDs more scarce and more highly trained.
  5. Fight for Autonomy — Once quality is assured from the beginning, give these highly trained professionals high standards and autonomy. This will lead to more talented entrants in T-Schools, higher teacher retention, and further prestige.

We no longer live an industrial society and teaching is no longer an industrial occupation. The best teachers are highly talented, trained, creative, and autonomous professionals. Hence, teachers unions should form a new professional organization modeled on the AMA and ABA to insure the quality of these professionals and build the prestige of the profession.

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