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What Baseball Could Teach Us About Park City Teacher Contracts

Park City School Superintendent Ember Conley often champions the idea of using research to determine how to best serve students’ needs. I’ve been a big proponent of Dr Conley in the past and think she has our students’ best interests at heart.

Yet, it gives me pause when I read last week in the Park Record that “The Park City School District and its teachers should be commended for agreeing to a salary package that encourages teachers to strive to become better educators….The agreement, which was ratified with overwhelming support by the Park City Education Association (which represents the teachers) and unanimously approved Tuesday by the Park City Board of Education, gives raises to teachers for tenure and pays them more for having a Master’s Degree.”

The problem is that research doesn’t backup the claim that teachers with a Master Degree are better educators than those without the degree. A 2014 Brookings Institute paper says, “The fact that teachers with master’s degrees are no more effective in the classroom, on average, than their colleagues without advanced degrees is one of the most consistent findings in education research.  In a study published in 2011, Paul Peterson and I confirmed this finding by comparing the student achievement of the same teachers before and after they earned master’s degrees, and found no impact.”

Let’s look at that 2011 study’s highlights. They say:

  • Majoring in education is not associated with teacher effectiveness.
  • University attended for college is not associated with teacher effectiveness.
  • Acquiring a master’s degree is not associated with teacher effectiveness.
  • Teachers become more effective with a few years of teaching experience.
  • Teachers may become less effective later in their careers.

Wow. It sounds like the real world.  Just because a person gets an MBA (Masters in Business), doesn’t make them better at running a company. It gives them information but what they do with that information is what matters. My wife is a Physical Therapist. She happens to have a Doctorate in Physical Therapy (the highest level of education for PTs) but she’ll be the first to tell you that a practitioner with a master’s degree ( a “lesser” degree) can be just as good. Success depends on the person.

I don’t mean this as any sort of attack on teachers and salaries. I think we all could agree that teachers who educate our children better should get paid more than teachers that don’t. Yet, it appears that Park City’s teacher contracts are based on:

  • Educational degree
  • Certifications
  • Endorsements
  • Professional Development
  • Research Project

What do any of these have to do with outcomes? These factors could be a big differentiator, depending on the person, but they are not an indicator of teaching effectiveness.  A bad teacher could get a masters degree, a certification, an endorsement, attend professional development courses, and complete a research project. It’s really just a cost benefit analysis:

  • How much will it cost to do these things?
  • How much time will it take?
  • How much more salary will I get?
  • How much longer will I teach?

It’s a math formula; not an indication of teaching aptitude.

I would never claim to be an education expert, but I do understand logic. It seems our School District negotiated contracts based on easy to verify stats, instead of REAL teacher effectiveness. Perhaps they can’t be blamed because 96% of schools do it the same way?

Yet, I expect more. If we want to truly be one of the best school districts in the country then we need to be different than the “96%”. If we are going to pay our teachers more than every other school district in the state, then let’s make sure we are paying the right teachers.

I’m a baseball fan and baseball already struggled with this. There’s a book called Money Ball about Major League Baseball and how most major league teams “looked at a baseball card” to determine their roster. Home Runs, walks, strike outs, and of course the player’s picture, were all influential in how most teams built their lineups.  Yet, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics decided to use real data in order to build a successful team. He built one of the best teams, at a good price, and now the concept is copied by most clubs.

Could this work in our schools? Yes. There is already a paper published on it.

I guess I am a little disappointed in hearing that we built our educational team based on factors that seem like a simple baseball card. How many years have you worked? Do you have a Masters? Did you do a project?  Imagine the Kansas City Royals baseball team building a team around people who have played a specific number of years, attended a requisite number of hitting camps, and wrote a paper on baseball. It’s frankly crazy.

Instead, shouldn’t we find a way to determine which teachers impact our students the most? Shouldn’t we use research based on student data to build the best team? Shouldn’t we reward those teachers on outcomes and not inputs? I know it’s likely not easy but being the best never is.

I truly hope there is something I’m missing. I hope that Dr. Conley is doing something differently. I hope salary decisions aren’t just based on years and school. I hope both the School Administration and teachers have come up with a way to use data to ensure that teacher effectiveness is the only priority.

I would rather pay the next great teacher (a rookie) far more to join my team (and has 20 years of baseball teaching ahead of them) than the veteran who is washed up and is just cashing checks.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s what our new teacher contract accomplishes.



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