So the latest proposal out of England on improving teacher quality is to create a "Master Teacher". Although lacking detail, the idea is that superior teachers would be encouraged and rewarded to stay in the classroom. What could go wrong?
To me, this is the same thinking as that behind proposals for merit pay and presents exactly the same problem. How to define "teacher" and "teaching". Remember, what gets measured / rewarded gets done. We have seen this and the inevitable results with sub-prime mortgages selling (US), pensions and dubious insurance selling (UK), nickleby-related (NCLB) teacher cheating in the US.
If a master teacher produces higher test scores, then guess what will happen in his/her classroom. If a superior teacher has high attendance rates, we will see the student-bribery we already see in US public schools, especially in the first 100 days where offers such as "students with perfect attendance receive an ipad or a bicycle" are widespread.
I remember once working with an excellent ESL teacher. His job was to prepare students for entry into mainstream classes as soon as possible, and their subsequent integration and success. He was very effective in this and his students were well-prepared and successful.
However, this is not why I think he is excellent. Any good ESL teacher should do the same. He is excellent because for years after he taught them his students would come back to see him to tell him of their daily lives, and often to seek his advice. (In preparing them for integration, he had also become a de facto counselor.) Without a doubt the personal connection that teacher established with his students was the sine qua non behind their success. How do you measure that?
That is my beef with these proposals. The motive is admirable. The discussion essential. However, the idea has a fatal flaw and will not solve the underlying teacher-quality problems. What do I suggest? Recruit better, train better, support and develop better, appraise and evaluate better, and reward better.
* Click here for an update to this comment.