Iron Range view: Merit pay proponents fail to understand facts of teaching
President Obama stated not long ago that "despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us."...
President Obama stated not long ago that "despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us."
One thing President Obama plans to do to remedy the situation is to "reward excellence in teaching with extra pay." Another of his plans, according to administration officials, "is to determine a teacher's merit based on the achievement of his students, among other things."
In my opinion, President Obama is making a mistake.
The entire idea of merit pay for teachers is a slap in the face. It implies that teachers are not working as hard as they could, but if they were motivated by merit pay they would work harder.
Also, teachers' pay based upon student achievement can't be made fair.
For example, a little more than one-third of all students will have to deal with their parents getting a divorce at some point. When the divorce occurs, many children are profoundly affected. Often, their attitude deteriorates and their schoolwork suffers. Although they've done well on past achievement tests, they may now decide it's payback time and rush through tests to make their parents fret. Should the teacher's paycheck also suffer?
All of us who have observed children have witnessed the phenomenon of the epiphany (a new grasp of reality).
One event that may bring on an epiphany is a 16-year-old's new driver's license. His parents have just told him he'll have to get on the B honor roll so they can obtain a lower insurance rate. "Or else." So this previously directionless sophomore starts to apply himself, his grades go up, and at the end of the year his achievement test scores are way better than they've ever been.
An epiphany also can occur when a previously directionless senior boy falls in love. His girl may look at him with those trusting eyes and he gets the message that he's going to have to change his ways. So he adopts a manly new seriousness of purpose and applies himself. His grades go way up, and on the end-of-the-year achievement test he scores far better than he ever did before.
We all know that educating students is a team effort. Should a teacher be paid more because he was on the spot when several of his sophomores and seniors had an epiphany?
High schools are preparatory schools. To be prepared for college or life, students need to learn the right things. If teachers are forced by the promise of more pay to teach students how to pass end-of-the-year achievement tests, students will learn facts for short-term goals (the achievement test).
Achievement tests generally do not contain the kinds of things students need to learn so that our schools stop crumbling, grades stop slipping, and other nations stop outpacing us.
Teachers are not to blame for the educational dilemma Obama claims is upon us.
It's misdirected people such as Obama himself and the likes of him. He needs to use his political power to inspire the creation of a world-class way of putting motivated, well-fed students into their first-hour class; to develop a world-class curriculum which will remedy alleged failings; and to devise a sophisticated way of sorting students so we can take full advantage of their uniqueness and individual abilities.
Instead of doing something meaningful and worthwhile with his power, President Obama has decided to look for a scapegoat for our "crumbling" educational system. Our teachers are sitting ducks.
JOSEPH LEGUERI of Gilbert is a writer, former educator and lifelong Iron Range resident.