Thursday, October 7, 2010

Career paths, educational reform and unintended consequences

(The following post originally appeared in Observational Epidemiology.)

This post by Joseph about career paths for researchers reminded me of some disturbing trends in career paths on the other side of academia, teaching.

In primary and secondary education, you can have a completely successful career by any conceivable standard and never get a single promotion. You can easily spend your entire professional life doing the same job with the same title. That might even be the ideal.

For a field requiring a degree, additional coursework and certification, this is an extraordinarily limited career path. To make up for that we have traditionally offered the following:

1. Reliable income that increases at an agreed-upon rate annually.

2. A high level of job security after a certain number of years (though this is somewhat offset by low job security before reaching tenure).

As well as creating a career path that didn't depend on promotion (and therefore largely avoided the Peter Principle), this emphasis on deferred, but steady compensation meant schools could minimize their investment in new, untested personnel (most really disastrous teachers do not make it to the tenure mark).

Two of the central tenets of the current move for education reform are elimination of tenure and replacing raises based on experience and education with merit pay. This leaves us with a career path that offers no real chance of promotion, no job security and wildly variable pay based on metrics that are largely out of the teacher's control and can easily be gamed by a biased administrator (see here).

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