If you read the editorial page of the Wausau Daily Herald this weekend, you noticed they had another “readers react” piece. This is when the editorial staff at the WDH get opinions from a number of readers. I don’t envy those that have to put this piece together. I am sure they get a number of responses and they have to decide which ones make it to print. And of course, then, they have to edit the responses to make them fit.
This Sunday, the topic was teachers and merit-based pay and using test scores as part of a teacher evaluation process. Being the son of a former teacher, someone who enjoys teaching, and a product of public education, when asked for my two cents, instead of writing a snippit, I wrote a pretty long piece. Only part of a paragraph made it to the paper, so I decided to allow my blog readers access to my full, unabridged response. Which follows…
This request for feedback gets my mind off of the things I have been dealing with lately, and allows me to throw my two cents at something that is important to me.
During the union discussions earlier this year, there were many comments about how much teachers were paid and how that (high) pay is dragging down the disposable income of taxpayers. However, I think often teachers are not appreciated enough. You really need to sit back and realize the responsibility that teachers have. They have always had the job of educating our children, but in the last few decades, they have often expanded to taking on rolls that (in my mind anyway), really should fall back on parents. But parents don’t have the time to teach their children basic living skills (like sharing and playing nice with others), so those duties have fallen on our teachers.
Based on the responsibilities that our teachers have in our society, the good teachers are GROSSLY underpaid. However, because of their responsibility to society, bad teachers are not only overpaid, they actually create a burden onto society by not preparing our youth of today to be our responsible adults of tomorrow.
Currently, my understanding is that teacher compensation is based on things like tenure and education level. A bad teacher gets compensated the same as a good teacher, as a matter of fact, a bad teacher with many years in the school district gets paid considerably more than a teacher with a few years under their belt who truly has the ability to touch students lives.
You will get very little argument from taxpayers, teachers, school district officials, or even teacher unions that some type of merit-based pay system that rewards those teachers who do an exceptional job and works to remove the dead weight of the school system is desirable. Where the problem lies is how does one measure the performance of teachers?
Student test scores can play a role, but I don’t see test scores as a really effective measurement of how good (or bad) a teacher is. A really smart student might do really well on the test but not have actually learned anything. On the other hand, a student with learning difficulties could do poorly on the test, but may have done much better because of the time and motivation they received from a really good teacher. This effect could be tempered with pre-tests and post-test to measure amount of improvement instead of standard of knowledge. But, what if a good teacher is blessed with a class of smart kids. If those test scores don’t show much improvement, they could be penalized.
Let us not forget also about the possibility that comes with “teaching the test”. If test scores are what might drive teacher compensation and even job security, they will make sure that the student knows what they need to know to pass the test (even though they might not need to know what they need to know to be a productive adult).
Is the current system broke? You bet it is!! However, I normally don’t write much about this because I am a firm believer that it is pointless to point out a problem unless you have a solution (or at the very least, a suggestion for an improvement).
I think that good teachers need to be identified, recognized, and rewarded. I think that bad teachers need to be identified, given the opportunity to become better teachers, and if they can’t cut the mustard, moved out of the way for people who can do a better job.
We desperately need a merit based system. However, this is infinitely difficult because schools are not factories where 5 year old kids go in one door and through an assembly line process, 18 year old productive adult members of society come out through the other door. Each kid that enters the school system is different. They have different learning styles. They have different home environments. They have different challenges. They have different strengths and weaknesses. We, as a country, are only recently starting to learn that a “one size fits all” approach to education is not only not practical, it simply doesn’t work. And, don’t even get me started on what a failure “no child left behind” is.
Because every student faces different challenges to learning, every teacher faces different challenges to educating those students. So, a standardized measure of performance, like test scores, doesn’t measure how good a teacher is, it only measures how well that student can take a specific test.
A merit based system is going to have to involve many different components. Test scores could be a component, but so should some sort of peer review. Also included should be parent input and some type of input from the students themselves. If you ask the students, they can tell you which teachers really touched their lives and not only taught them, but actually inspired them to learn (for me, Mrs. Shemanski in 6th Grade in Lincoln Elementary in Marshfield tops my list), and students know which teachers are beyond useless (I have had my share of those to, but am not going to name them here).
My mom was a teacher, and teaching is something that I, myself, enjoy doing. As a taxpayer, I would be more than happy to pay more taxes so that great teachers could be compensated for being great… but ONLY if there was a system in place that ensured that teachers that were a drain on the system were quickly ushered out of that profession.