Merit pay for teachers

We have a cool show here in Portland called Think Out Loud. They pick a subject and then have a panel of knowledgeable folks on the radio and let people call in with their thoughts, opinions etc. You can even post if you would like to join the conversation.

edit: in my haste I didn’t mention that on September 23, the show was regarding a Ballot Measure number 60, raised by Bill Sizemore (a well known anti tax activist here in Oregon, though often his anti tax measures seek to knock the funding for schools down a notch or two). Measure 60, a yes vote would support merit pay for teacher, as opposed to seniority pay. A no vote would vote down the idea of merit pay. At this writing, I don’t know how it would be measured who received merit pay and who would not, and that is a pretty important piece of the puzzle.

Because I am a teacher, and because there is always that person that thinks that modeling schools after businesses is a great idea, of course I had to write in.

Here is link to the ballot measure as it was when it was defeated in 1998.

And here is my response, written largely from the point of view of an ESL teacher from a very large poverty school with a huge immigrant population, who is still paying off her student debt. Sorry it is so long. Strunk and White would deride me for my verbosity.

Thankyou for the opportunity to respond and initiate conversation about this measure.

From listening to the show, I still didn’t get a good idea of just how exactly this measure proposed that teachers would be measured for merit pay. Without this detail, I can’t conceive of how one could approve of the measure. I don’t really buy that the ambiguity of the measure in this area allows a well crafted system to emerge. I agree with Librarian teacher Martha Decherd that basing the merit pay on standardized tests alone would be dicey, and would certainly have to take into account the scores from previous assessments, each child individually…and state tests being far less than ideal for such a high stakes thing like a paycheck.

Having taught most of my life in a high poverty school (David Douglas High School in East Portland) that also had a high diversity rate, I wonder how in the world would teachers be judged for the progress of kids from other countries? Students who have had huge gaps in their education? Students who are homeless? Students who have special needs? Students who come from countries with utterly broken educational systems, arriving here next to illiterate not only in English, but in their first language as well? For a huge number of schools in Oregon, these ELL student populations are not a few isolated kids, but large percentages, and growing.

A business model is nice in business, but one of the major reform movements in education is that the mass production factory model of education that our schools emulate leaves alot of kids to slip through the cracks. Kids are not furniture or customers. They come from homes that are often a wreck, are at times more concerned about their next meal, bad home circumstances, drug use and absentee parents–either emotionally or physically.

How is it going to benefit our education system to lay these realities at the feet of teachers and tell them “fix the discrepancy, your wages depend on it.” Especially when teachers are often times digging themselves into alot of school debt just so they can do a job that is meant to be inherently rewarding because of their own ability to be effective.

A kids education is like a triangle…Parents, the kid him herself and the teacher all have to be onboard and in participation in order to overcome the inevitable obstacles that will arise as that child matures. Maybe parents should be looked at for tax breaks for kids that pull their weight? Kids not making the grade mandatorily be signed up for summer school?

That said, the seniority system isn’t perfect. There are teachers who have put in 20 plus years who are just plugging through the last ten to get their PERS retirement package. They are often disengaged, disillusioned with all the hoops they are made to jump through by constantly changing requirements, have hit their peak of good teaching and for many possible reasons started to just punch the clock. And there is something to be said for natural ability in teaching.

But trying to fix these problems with this punitive bandage of merit pay for teachers that isn’t well spelled out, well, it only makes the teaching profession a less desirable place to be for people who have alot to offer. Competition might be good in sports or business, but in education collaboration is the way to success. Kids benefit immensely from teaching teams that bring a more well rounded point of view to subjects, not that compete against each other for what…? a raise?

The majority of middle school teachers that I have come across work far more than an 8 hour day. I can speak personally that I cannot give what it takes to be a teacher right now and I spend time raising kids. I need a job with hours, not a job that is a way of life, which is largely what teaching is.

edit:  Mrs. T, you asked about responses I got…here are a few…

Reply to hb1736. You have stated many of my points in an exceptionally well composed response. I have spent the majority of my adult life in social services which has included schools, prisons, private and public social service agencies. I have repeatedly questioned the popular position of expecting teachers and schools to be responsible for a wide range of factors outside of their control. Its not politically correct to hold parents responsible on a daily basis for their children entering school prepared and motivated to learn. The pint elephants in every school and classroom are the family culture of each child with respect to their attitude toward education and learning, whether the child regularly gets enough sleep, a structured household which requires the child to have a home environment which supports opportunties to study, and a host of other factors which impact the child’s ability to benefit from school. And yet, schools and teachers are the only ones who are held accountabie ?

and this one…

That said, the seniority system isn’t perfect. There are teachers who have put in 20 plus years who are just plugging through the last ten to get their PERS retirement package. They are often disengaged, disillusioned with all the hoops they are made to jump through by constantly changing requirements, have hit their peak of good teaching and for many possible reasons started to just punch the clock. And there is something to be said for natural ability in teaching.

This is the point I keep trying to make. Perhaps Measure 60 isn’t the way. But who else is proposing the necessary change? Certainly not the teachers’ union or the school boards. And given that, frustration builds to the point where anything that’s offered looks better than the status quo.

During the course of my career I have entered many homes with children in which the family household was in such disarray and confusion it would be impoosible for any teacher or school to effectively address on an educational level.

Advertisements

One Comment Add yours

  1. mrs t says:

    Well said. Did you get any dissenters?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s