Education

Even the liberal New Republic . . .

Andrew Gelman Aug 7 '11

Mark Palko catches this one from New Republic columnist Jonathan Chait:

The old liberal slogan always demanded that we “treat teachers like professionals.” That entails some measure of accountability — we can debate the metrics — which allows both that very bad teachers be fired and that very good ones can obtain greater pay and recognition. That’s the definition of a professional career track . . .

As Palko writes, it’s a bit odd that Chait is listing being easy to fire as part of the definition of being a professional. For one thing, many professionals are self-employed, and many others have a pretty narrow salary range. Here’s Wikipedia:

A professional is a member of a vocation founded upon specialized educational training. Examples of professions include: medicine, law, engineering and social work. The word professional traditionally means a person who has obtained a degree in a professional field. The term is used more generally to denote a white collar worker, or a person who performs commercially in a field typically reserved for hobbyists or amateurs. In western nations, such as the United States, the term commonly describes highly educated, mostly salaried workers, who enjoy considerable work autonomy, a comfortable salary, and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work. . . . Because of the personal and confidential nature of many professional services and thus the necessity to place a great deal of trust in them, most professionals are held up to strict ethical and moral regulations.

I don’t see anything there about getting fired.

I can understand how Chait, working in an uncertain field such as journalism, can feel some impatience with teachers and other workers who have the expectation of jobs for life. If I had no job security, I might be annoyed with people who expect it in their lives. Maybe it’s a good idea to fire some people–Chait is talking only about the very bad teachers, he’s not recommending that 80% of teachers be fired or anything so extreme as all that. But I don’t think that being vulnerable to being fired is part of “the definition of a professional career track.”