I was chatting with an elementary principal recently who talked about the lack of time for his teachers to teach science to their young charges. The reason provided was that many of the children were receiving two to three times as much math and/or literacy instruction as their peers in an attempt to bring them up to grade level. I remarked that quantity wasn't always the best substitute for quality. I don't doubt that there are some kids who benefit from some additional time to focus on a topic, but I still think it comes to down to how that time is used. More of the same isn't going to help.
I remembered this story when I was reading an editorial in the Tacoma News-Tribune about offering higher pay to math and science teachers. The main reason offered is that "there are more opportunities to make more money outside of public education for those with math and science skills than for those with other skills. How does public education respond? It must pay those teachers enough to keep them in the classroom, for a few years anyway."
Okay. As a science teacher, the promise of more money is appealing...as it would be for anyone (and not just teachers). But what I think the author of the editorial hasn't considered is that more pay is not going to lead to better teaching. For example, I know of a teacher in the district who is very happy at his school. He talks about teaching there until retirement...which is 25+ years away. But just because he likes picking up a paycheck there doesn't make him a good teacher, does it? Lesson plans are constructed no more than an hour in advance, and consist of lecture and bookwork. Tests a couple of hours before he gives them (and just uses a test generator to spit out something). No feedback is provided on assignments. There are few labs or cooperative activities ever done. Students in his classes consistently underperform others in the district, while he brags about how uninvolved he is in professional development and so on. Should we pay him more simply because he teaches science? More pay is not going to equal better instruction from this man. And a full generation of kids is going to suffer in the meantime.
I suppose that this post could quickly evolve into one about merit pay...but I'm not interested in going there at the moment. What I do want to think about is separating the concept of "quality" from "quantity." These are not interchangeable terms and in educational matters, we need to stop using them as such.