Thursday, January 12, 2006

Merit-pay for Teachers

Houston is all set to tie teachers' salaries to student test scores. Whew! What a hot-button issue! Books could be written on both sides, but I will try to be brief. I am not necessarily opposed to merit-based pay, but I am opposed to that merit being soley measured on student test scores, as Houston will do. I have taught in schools where the sole focus is test scores, and the result isn't that great (even if scores do rise). Houston's plan does not offer non-core area teachers the same opportunities to earn these bonuses. But all of that and more, aside, it just seems wrong. How can you determine a teacher's pay based on another human's being's choices? I believe that children do have much personal responsibility for their education. How unfair this type of plan is for the teacher whose children simply will not come prepared, listen, do any classwork or homework, or read the test questions? Don't give me the garbage about how a great teacher will be able to motivate all of her students. A great teacher will be able to motivate most or some, but not all. Plus, let's face it, most teachers are good, but not great.

Here's a possible scenario. Johnny is in 7th grade. He has done little work all year. Despite many parent conferences, Johnny just wants to play in school. Having learned little, his grades are failing, and by April he knows he will be retained. When test time comes around in May, he is well-aware that his teacher has a personal stake in how her students perform. He doesn't like his teacher - too strict, got him suspended twice, always tries to get his parents against him, gives him F's, won't let him sit by his friends, etc. He knows that these standardized test scores will in part determine his placement in the next grade (in some places they don't!), but since he knows he's failing regardless, he decides just to bubble his answers in a fun pattern. Besides this'll be good revenge on the teacher. Johnny's teacher and school have various rewards for the kids who try hard on the test, so he is careful to be very slow about filling in his bubbles, so she'll think he is trying.

Think this scenario is not likely to happen often? Ask any middle school teacher, and they will tell you that they know many, many kids like that.

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