Should We Record K-12 Teachers While They Teach?

Three years ago, Bill Gates delivered a ten-minute TED presentation about the lack of meaningful feedback teachers receive so they can improve their instruction. Gates believes other countries outperform the United States across every subject for K-12 education because the United States has no system for the development of entry-level teachers with high-quality models, mentors, and evidence of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of their own practices. Gates offered a controversial solution: recording teachers across the country and evaluating their performance based upon student outcomes and the videos themselves. While Gates conceded this proposal would cost approximately $5 billion and would probably face immediate resistance from teachers and districts, he asserted the benefits of this program would significantly outweigh its costs. You can watch the entire presentation below:

The question remains: should we record our teachers, and how should we use the information collected from these videos? Gates and his supporters list several benefits of recorded lessons: these videos can help teachers recognize the relative success of their own lectures, activities, and classroom management procedures; share effective lessons and policies with their colleagues; produce databases of the best-practices of instructors nationwide; and identify teachers who deserve rewards for their work or need additional guidance and support. Nevertheless, this proposal has some potential drawbacks. First, continual video would significantly reduce the privacy of teachers and students during class. Second, if administrators used these videos for teacher evaluations, then districts would need regulations against “cherry-picking” positive or negative results for specific instructors. Finally, schools need resources so they can not only identify the limitations of their current methods but also incorporate technology, policies, and personnel whenever shortcomings are identified. Overall, I believe we should let teachers record themselves so they can improve their own instruction but feel we should approach any mandatory video system with caution.

Should Graduate Students Unionize?

Last month, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students from private universities could legally form unions (see this short article from the New York Times), and commentators have subsequently asked whether graduate students actually need protection from their institutions. Graduate students already receive fee and tuition waivers, stipends, and healthcare from their universities whereas medical and law students pay for their entire educations. Why, then, should graduate students complain about their labor conditions when many other students and employees at the university level potentially suffer from even more clear-cut exploitation?

Image result for graduate student union

The case for graduate student unionization follows two central principles: 1) Graduate students do not receive adequate compensation for their skilled academic labor. 2) The use of underpaid graduate students for college courses not only prevents universities from hiring tenured faculty but also lowers the wages of adjuncts and other nontenured instructors. Based upon personal experience, graduate students typically work over fifty hours per week and must divide their time between their own research (which will determine their long-term success) and their instructional responsibilities. Graduate students must therefore prioritize between their careers and their students whenever they manage their schedules, which inevitably weakens either their research programs or the curriculum and administration of their courses. While these trade-offs certainly apply for tenured professors, graduate students experience similar pressure from their departments for original research but generally receive less protection from campus administrators who expect well-designed classes from their instructors.

Continue reading