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Grasmick's reforms aren't bold enough

Maryland schools superintendent Nancy Grasmick is making what The Sun's Liz Bowie calls "bold proposals" to improve teacher quality. I suppose by Maryland standards they are bold. Grasmick wants to make teachers prove themselves for more than as little as two years before they get tenure and protections from getting fired for incompetence. She wants three years or four years. Some states require up to seven years, Bowie reports.

Grasmick also wants to link teacher evaluations to student test scores and get the ability to increase pay for those who can teach tough subjects such as math or Chinese. Imagine -- evaluating teachers based on results! Paying more to employees who have mastered difficult subjects that students need to learn in the 21st century economy! It's telling that Maryland policymakers had to use the prospect of getting federal stimulus money as an excuse to propose these changes.

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But, I mean, really. Even if the time to get tenure is extended from two years to four years, it'll still be hard to dismiss teachers who slack off later in their careers. The reforms would go another step in elevating the idol of standardized test scores. And it's ridiculous that the school system should even have to negotiate with the union to pay more to physics and calculus teachers. For most people quantitative skills are harder to learn and harder to teach. Bilingual teachers are the exception rather than the rule. Schools should be free to pay science, math and language teachers what they're worth.

UPDATE: Teachers are getting quite defensive in the comments section, which puzzles me. I'm advocating excellence and accountability for teaching. In what respect does that contain an "antagonistic undercurrent," as one teacher commented? We should demand excellence and accountability in every profession, including journalism. I revere teachers. In another life I would have become a teacher. I have been volunteering as a tutor in an inner-city Baltimore elementary school for more than a decade, and I can't believe the toil and dedication of the professionals there. Teaching is one of society's most important professions. That's why we should hire the very best people we can, hold them to high standards, pay them what they're worth when they meet expectations and hold them accountable when they don't.

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Pointing out that some teachers protected by tenure aren't delivering results our kids deserve is not the same as deprecating all teachers.

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