"The Widget Effect" Hits the Big Time

The New York Times hosts “Schott’s Vocab,” where Ben Schott canonizes “unconsidered lexicographical trifles” for shedding light on our times. His latest entry for a new word or phrase of particular import is none other than “The Widget Effect,” which Schott defines as “the detrimental effect of treating teachers as homogeneous and easily interchangeable.” For documentation he cites an excerpt from the NYT “Room for Debate” blog written by Timothy Daly of The New Teachers Project, which coined this phrase:
The biggest obstacle is that teaching is still based on a set of factory-era policies that treat teachers like interchangeable parts. In a 2009 study, my organization labeled this phenomenon the “widget effect.” Most school districts can’t distinguish their highest-performing teachers from their lowest; wrongly, they act as though all teachers are the same.

The widget effect degrades the teaching profession. If you do a fantastic job in your classroom, you can’t expect a fast track up the career ladder or even a pat on the back. You’ll get the same formulaic, seniority-based raise each year as the lower-performing teacher down the hall. During these hard economic times, you might even get a pink slip, since it’s illegal in 14 states to consider job performance in layoff decisions.