Fran Tarkenton, former NFL quarterback, evokes an “alternative reality” where a football player’s salary is based on how many years he’s played and “the only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases.”
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the NFL in this alternate reality is the real -life American public education system. 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.
Fran Tarkenton's WSJ polemic deserves a response at several levels.
His comparison of the NFL and public schools as regards personnel issues is ridiculous. NFL players have very short (well less than 10 years) careers on average. Pro football is not a lifetime vocation because game skills degrade rapidly once players reach their 30s. Most players are simply let go then to fend for themselves. The number of players whose skills improve materially during their later years is miniscule. Teachers, in contrast, can and do improve their knowledge bases and teaching skills over time. Is Mr. Tarkenton advocating high turnover among teachers for some purpose other than constraint of their wages? In a high-turnover, low-expectations world, where would he find needed replacements?
Teachers, like pro footballers, can be cut from the roster in training camp. Most anti-tenure arguments fail to acknowledge that more than a few teaching novices fail to obtain tenure during their first three years of service.
Even when they do achieve tenure(which is NOT “often essentially automatic”), teachers can be penalized for malfeasance and misfeasance via withholding of raises, increased scrutiny, mandatory remedial training and job re-assignment.
Let's not forget that in Mr. Tarkenton's meritocratic NFL, we will also find perennial bottom-dwellers as well as champions approaching dynasties. Are these uneven outcomes what we want from our schools? How do they even occur when quick-fix solutions are–according to Mr. Tarkenton–readily at hand?
Inquiring minds want to know!