Point of View

NC policy should promote teacher cooperation, not competition

November 13, 2013 

It is encouraging that Gov. Pat McCrory has established an advisory committee on how to address the “teacher problem.” It’s encouraging that he realizes that he needs advice and that he is not wedded to the proposal that he has floated (rewarding the top 1,000 teachers in the state with $10,000 bonuses) or to the proposal of state Sen. Phil Berger to give raises to the top 25 percent of teachers.

An obvious problem with both these proposals is how to identify the best teachers. An attempt to evaluate teacher performance based on the performance of their students will make it even more difficult to attract teachers to low-performing schools in impoverished communities.

But there is an even bigger problem with these plans, a problem suggesting that the governor and the senator fail to understand how the educational enterprise works best. Both of their plans are based on the notion of competition. In both plans, to merit a raise, teachers must compete against one another. Teacher Reynolds must outperform Teacher Ramos to win the raise that will be denied to Teacher Ramos.

If he is a good listener, what McCrory should learn from his advisory committee is that in successful schools, teachers don’t compete. They cooperate. In “Practice Perfect” (2012), Lemov, Woolway, and Yezzi call attention to a truth they learned from Ronald Moorish: That there are classroom teachers and there are school teachers. Classroom teachers are concerned only with the success of what happens in their classrooms; school teachers are invested in the education of all the students at their school. A classroom teacher seeing another teacher in trouble might walk on by, perhaps feeling superior. A school teacher would offer the struggling teacher help and support. In schools with this spirit of cooperation, argue Lemov et al., “teachers improve and children learn, schools are better and so is society.”

And there is evidence from around the world that this is true. In the 2007 study “How the world’s best-performing schools come out on top ,” the investigators reported, “Some of the best systems have found ways to enable teachers to learn from each other.” Some of the collaborative practices described, especially in Japan and Finland, include teachers planning lessons jointly, observing each other’s lessons and giving feedback. The investigators report, “These systems create a culture in which collaborative planning and peer coaching are the norm.”

The truth is that with feedback and practice, most of us can get better at what we do. We can become better students, better teachers, and better governors. Let’s hope that the creation of this advisory committee is one small step toward a culture of collaboration.

Louise Taylor of Buies Creek is a professor of English emerita from Meredith College

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