Fran Tarkenton, the former Minnesota Vikings quarterback known for his scrambling ability, wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, attacking the way teachers are paid.
He asks readers to imagine that NFL players are paid in the same way that teachers are. In this imaginary league:
Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct.
Let’s face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt?
No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn’t get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money.
He says that’s the problem with the current education system in the U.S.:
Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job — excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they’ve been teaching. That’s it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you’re demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation’s children.
That system needs change, he says:
The results we’re looking for are students learning, so we need to reward great teachers who show they can make that happen—and get rid of bad teachers who don’t get the job done. It’s what we do in every other profession: If you’re good, you get rewarded, and if you’re not, then you look for other work. It’s fine to look for ways to improve the measuring tools, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Our rigid, top-down, union-dictated system isn’t working. If results are the objective, then we need to loosen the reins, giving teachers the ability to fulfill their responsibilities to students to the best of their abilities, not to the letter of the union contract and federal standards.
Tarkenton played in the NFL, with the Vikings and the Giants, from 1961-1978, long before any of today’s students, and many of their teachers, were born.