Improving education through competition

I read an article written by a New Mexico teacher recently in the Santa Fe Reporter. The author made some interesting comparisons about standardized testing, teacher evaluation, and sports — essentially making the argument that such efforts were misguided. I gave my own take on the issue in a letter to the editor that was published in this week’s edition:

Teacher Seth Biderman related an interesting story in which he compared teacher evaluations as a tool for achieving peak performance with his experience with different coaching styles as a soccer player [School Re-Formed, July 17: “In the Flow”]. I found the comparison apt and would like to discuss my own take.

For starters, sports in this country are highly competitive (in many respects replicating the best features of a free market). Especially at the professional level, numbers are crunched and data are available on every player and coach. Pay is based strictly on merit in a very competitive and relatively transparent system. If you don’t perform, trades and firings are “part of the business.”

Contrast that with education, where competition, transparency and pay for performance are truly lacking. Who are the best teachers in New Mexico? How should we measure performance in the classroom? What should the best teachers be paid? While Biderman is confident that “nearly all teachers want to be great,” the reality is that teaching is far less transparent than sports in separating top performers from mediocre and poor ones.

Also, while competition and accurate data are lacking in education, we do know that New Mexico’s education performance is lacking. We’re certainly not the New York Yankees or Real Madrid.

I’d like to see New Mexico adopt a few ideas from sports to improve education. Competition in the form of school choice is easily the most powerful tool, but evaluations based on student improvement and pay-for-performance must be considered as well.

Paul J Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation President