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This was submitted as an idea to the Politifest 2012 Idea Tournament. VOSD members will vote on the best ideas and on Sept. 19 we’ll announce six contenders (Not a member? Join now to vote). At Politifest on Sept. 29, each of the six finalists will have five minutes to pitch their idea to a panel. The panel rates the ideas and two finalists advance. The crowd at Politifest will vote on a winner. The winner will receive an “idea-inspired” trophy custom-designed by former City Councilwoman Donna Frye. VOSD CEO Scott Lewis will also write about the winner’s idea.

No one really knows what’s going on in individual public school classrooms. Observations by principals tend to be fleeting and few. We don’t need to fire anybody, but we do need to use highly-skilled teachers and ordinary teachers where they can do the optimal good.

The truth is that the critical moments in learning don’t happen continuously five hours a day. They add up to at most a couple of hours each day, and probably much less. The rest of the time an ordinary teacher can handle lesson reinforcement, computer activities, art projects, silent reading, etc.

The best teachers should be able to rise far above average teachers on the salary scale — and they should have far more responsibility. In my plan, each classroom would have a full-time regular teacher. Several classrooms would share a master teacher, who would be responsible for student progress, teaching lessons part-time and guiding the regular teacher. Gifted regular teachers would be eligible to become master teachers. Instead of bringing in vendors selling the latest gimmick for tens of thousands of dollars, master teachers would do all necessary training.

Here’s the comparison for four classrooms and one extra salary (in thousands):

Currently: $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 = $300

New plan: $100+$50+$50+$50+$50 = $300 (minus exorbitant cost of education vendors)

If we add more money, we could have more master teachers. Meaningful evaluations of teachers would have to be instituted. Current evaluation systems are worse than useless. My plan would call for frequent observations by both master and regular teachers, who would observe classrooms in other districts to keep school politics at bay. The observations would have a beneficial side effect: they would allow teachers to pick up new ideas.

Maura Larkins submitted this idea to the Politifest 2012 Idea Tournament. Join us on Sept. 29!

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