Seattle Education

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Merit Pay

“I would like to know who in our country would like their pay to be based on the actions of a group of children.”

Laurie, in response to R. Weingartner, On Point, 1/26/10

Merit pay, also referred to as “performance pay”,  is an issue that is closely associated with charter schools and is a reiteration of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Basically, it requires that teachers pay be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests. For our students, it could be the new MAP test.

Per a conversation that three other parents and I had with Brad Bernatek, the person within the Seattle Public School district who is charged with the implementation of the MAP test, Mr. Bernatek said that the MAP test was not designed as an evaluation tool to measure a teacher’s performance. Unfortunately, our superintendent is insistent that this test be used as part of our teachers’ evaluation process.

With the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers and staff were pressured to teach much of the class work to the standardized tests. With so much focus on the test, many other parts of knowledge building, creativity and understanding of subjects and their synthesis with other knowledge had to take a back seat. For many students, teaching to a test meant that they were not able to reach their full potential which would have been far beyond the level of the tests.

No one wins in this situation.

Part of the fallout also is that if a teacher’s pay is based on how well their students test, many teachers will want to teach in a school where they know that the students will perform well. Those schools are, for the most part, not the schools that are predominately minority in population.

Some students do not perform well on standardized tests for many different reasons and yet a teacher’s pay can be tied to that student’s performance. High stakes testing also puts pressure and stress on the students who become burdened with the thought that they need to perform well on one test. The test becomes a focus with little opportunity to explore and have fun learning, creating and synthesizing new thoughts and ideas.

For additional information regarding  a study that has been done on the merits of merit pay, see:

Another blow for merit pay: Long-awaited Tennessee study finds no impact on student achievement

and a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute

Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers

Update: The Governor of Texas has decided to opt out of the Race to the Top funding because of the ineffectiveness of the merit pay program that was in effect for three years in the state.

Update: March 8, 2010 Principal to be removed from school in Washington State due to low WASL scores.

Excerpt from a letter to Arne Duncan from Herbert Kohl:

Summer 2009

We have come far from that time in the ’60s. Now the mantra is high expectations and high standards. Yet, with all that zeal to produce measurable learning outcomes we have lost sight of the essential motivations to learn that moved my students. Recently I asked a number of elementary school students what they were learning about and the reactions were consistently, “We are learning how to do good on the tests.” They did not say they were learning to read.

And from a comment in the Huffington Post by Priscilla Gutierrez:

“I think it high time Congress enact similar mandates for other professions that utilize a single measure to determine success. Dentists should be evaluated on how many teeth they save, doctors should be evaluated on how many patients they save, lawyers should be evaluated on how many cases they win, accountants should be evaluated on much money they save clients, and engineers on how many buildings they’ve designed get built. Congress should also enact national, comprehensive standards for each profession without any input from members of said professions since we know they can’t be trusted to make informed decisions or contribute to the discussion in any meaningful way. Anyone who won’t come on board should be fired and labeled a dissident. Conformity and control are a must, so teachers should be thankful they are first in the firing line.”

7 thoughts on “Merit Pay

  1. There is accountability in education. Parents, administration, state/national pressure, students (students know when they are not getting the best education), and personal reputation (most teachers are highly reflective and most want to do a good job) make teachers accountable. Work does not end in the classroom. After work is filled with meeting with students, revising lesson plans, grading papers, and teaching sports/ other activities. Nights are not always family time as a good teacher will be trying to think about how to help students that are struggling while recreating lesson plans. When I began teaching it was a 20+ hour a day job that went 7 days a week. After developing arts integrated, student centered lesson the day was still long. Even experienced teachers are in the building from 5 am to 5 pm. Teachers do not get pay bonuses for doing a better job, instead in the city they often get put with more challenging classes. Teachers do not have to only worry about themselves either, they have to worry about the 100+ kids they are teaching, the students they taught, and the students they help with after school programming. Summers are not always vacations because often they are filled with work to be done including summer school and professional development.

    I took a break from teaching and was able to work a job, develop a NPO from the ground-up, train and run a half marathon a month, and work an internship to build abilities that I wanted to gain. All that being said I still was able to sleep 8 hours a night and feel much more refreshed then when teaching. Teachers work hard and put so much into their job.

  2. pg,

    My daughter goes to what is termed an “alternative school” in Seattle. It is loosely based on the idea of Summerhill, a student centered, project based program.

    The approach of this sort of education is that there is more than one way to solve a problem, that what inspires learning is starting with what the student can see, is interested in and then allowing the student to take it from there.

    It has nothing to do with mindless drilling of facts and numbers that get memorized for a test and then quickly forgotten.

    It has to do with critical thinking and finding creative solutions to an intellectual challenge.

    And actually, teachers put in many more hours than you might be aware of. They stay after school to grade papers and put together lesson plans, they fund raise for their classes so that they can take field trips, they scour flea markets and discount stores looking for things that they can use in their classrooms.

    Attacking a union, particularly the teacher’s union, is not the way to solve what many people are painting as a disparity in education.

    I refer to it as an “opportunity gap” between the have’s and the have not’s. If a child is not ready to learn; a child who might be hungry, distracted by family matters, tired from something that might have happened at home, cold because they don’t have enough to wear, then other actions must be taken to ensure that the child is focused and energetic and ready to take on whatever the teacher has to offer. Then the teacher can be “effective”.

    Blaming it on teachers is not understanding the underlying problems that are created by poverty.

    Unions are an important way to ensure fairness and protections from the whims of employers. It is also a way to ensure that we continue to have a middle class in this country, a place where many of us can be.

    You take away unions and you take away the middle class.

    You take away the middle class and then there is no one to buy your goods or services.

    That would leave us with nothing in the end and an even less educated class of Americans who are not able to think for themselves which is not a good thing unless that’s what you want.

  3. Interesting web site… It appears you are against charter schools, against merit pay, against testing.
    What is your solution? More of the same?
    Teachers want to be treated like professionals, but don’t want any accoutability that is routine to other professionals. They want a comparable salary, but don’t want to put in the same hours. The national average for teacher salary is $56,000. Not to bad for a job with over 13 weeks of vacation.
    If the NEA is interested in nothing but business as usual, how do we get out of the tail spin?

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