Mark Palko catches this one from New Republic columnist Jonathan Chait:

The old liberal slogan always demanded that we “treat teachers like professionals.” That entails some measure of accountability—we can debate the metrics—which allows both that very bad teachers be fired and that very good ones can obtain greater pay and recognition. That’s the definition of a professional career track . . .

As Palko writes, it’s a bit odd that Chait is listing being easy to fire as part of the definition of being a professional. For one thing, many professionals are self-employed, and many others have a pretty narrow salary range. Here’s Wikipedia:

A professional is a member of a vocation founded upon specialized educational training. Examples of professions include: medicine, law, engineering and social work. The word professional traditionally means a person who has obtained a degree in a professional field. The term is used more generally to denote a white collar worker, or a person who performs commercially in a field typically reserved for hobbyists or amateurs. In western nations, such as the United States, the term commonly describes highly educated, mostly salaried workers, who enjoy considerable work autonomy, a comfortable salary, and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work. . . . Because of the personal and confidential nature of many professional services and thus the necessity to place a great deal of trust in them, most professionals are held up to strict ethical and moral regulations.

I don’t see anything there about getting fired.

I can understand how Chait, working in an uncertain field such as journalism, can feel some impatience with teachers and other workers who have the expectation of jobs for life. If I had no job security, I might be annoyed with people who expect it in their lives. Maybe it’s a good idea to fire some people—Chait is talking only about the very bad teachers, he’s not recommending that 80% of teachers be fired or anything so extreme as all that. But I don’t think that being vulnerable to being fired is part of “the definition of a professional career track.”

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.