Matt Kahn on improving education

The always-brilliant Matt Kahn has posted a few points on how to improve education. My favorite is:

Fifth; Professors who stink in the classroom should be identified and punished. There are lots of crappy jobs that have to be done in Departments. Give these assignments to the profs who stink in the classrooms . I recall that when I was a student at Chicago, there was one prof who had only 1 student registered for his class. He was rewarded for doing a bad job by having no work to do. Bad incentives! To pull this off requires a Chairman of the Department who is tough enough to deal out punishment. Most profs play nice but this holds back the university. Departments need enforcers. Charles Oakley should make a comeback.

I’m less a fan of punishment and more a fan of actually, well, recognizing teaching as part of the job and incentivizing. If you, like me, routinely teach 70+ students in a class when others are teaching 10 student classes, you should be given more course credit for teaching that student load than the 10 student classes. Yet, my 70+ student course counts as 1 class in my course load, and the person with 10 students counts that as 1 class in his course load. It’s baloney and we all know it.

Although it is tooting my own horn a bit, for classes that I routinely teach, I’m regarded as an excellent teacher and a good mentor to young folks who want to enter the planning profession or the academy.

In general, my colleagues and my administrators could care less about my contributions in this realm. It’s all about what I published recently. I don’t think there’s a direct tradeoff between teaching and researching well–I think you can do both well, and there are lots of exemplars of people who are wonderful at both. But good research takes time, and good teaching takes time, and there is only so much time. With the incentive structure I face, I am much, much, much better off publishing one more paper a year, however marginal that contribution, than giving that time to students.

I just call it like I see it.