"Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence
in teaching with extra pay, even though it can make a difference in the
I have no problem with the basic concept of merit pay; but what I want to know is how "excellence in teaching" is going to be measured. We are currently evaluating our schools based on a high-stakes annual test which is scored based solely on whether the student is at grade level in the subject area. There is no attention paid to where the student was when he or she arrived in a teacher's classroom or how much they learned in that teacher's classroom. If there is a test at the beginning and a test at the end of the year, and the progress made is a measure used to determine "excellence," I have no problem. So why do I think that is never going to happen?
Some of the issues of merit pay address the fact that some teachers will cheat or teach to the test. That's true. This is opinion is modeled by the current fiasco in the business world. There will be Bernard Madoffs in education, or perhaps Arthur Andersens in education as well, gaming the system and profiting from illegal behavior and deceptive accounting. Competition works in the business world, but is it really the model we want to use to teach our students?
I also wonder about how this is going to affect the urban school students. I recently received a flyer from our local school system boasting of our quality schools with their ISTEP scores broadly plastered across it. I know what my school district looks like. It's mostly affluent, with two parents at home. My wife and I, as two teachers are probably in the lowest quartile in annual income. Is it really the school that's of high quality? My daughter, who's almost three, knows her alphabet and can count to 20. We read to her every night. Is the school system really that great, or do the kids who go there have parents who take an active role in their children's learning? I polled my own students a few weeks ago, and discovered that my daughter owns more books than the combined library of any one of my classes. Which teachers are going to rush in to work in schools like mine, which need excellent teachers even more than the school district where I live?
If you want to fix public education, here's my idea: Close down all the public schools. Privatize them completely. Let's see how many art teachers and band directors people really want to pony up for. Let's find out how important special education is to the populus in general and see if they agree that it's worth all the money that is sunk into it. Let's hear whether they agree or not that they personally need to spend millions of dollars on facilities so that one in ten kids can play football. Let the market decide where the money should really be spent. I'm betting that someone wants to pay me to teach their kids math and I'm betting that my wife's computer and business classes will be full. What's that? It won't be fair to the poor kids, whose parents can't afford us?
There's nothing new about that.