Saturday, March 14, 2009

Merit Pay and Lack of Merit Firing

Well it's official- Arne Duncan and President Obama have set out ideas to "reform" American education which won't work and are, for the most part, pointless. Raising the cap on charter schools is fine and will help somewhat by increasing innovation. Extending the school day and year is ridiculous (note my previous post and extend the same argument to a longer school day: well-off kids go to soccer and piano lessons and poor kids don't. This is a POVERTY issue, not an education issue). But the idea that really gets me is merit pay for teachers. Don't get me wrong- I think good teachers deserve to be paid far more than they are right now. But attaching merit pay to test results is the worst idea I have heard in a long time. These comments from New York Times readers sum it up pretty well. Here is my idea instead: have every public school child and parent rate teachers on several criterion on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the best. Average the results then fire every teacher with a score of 1 through 4. Give merit pay to every teacher with a score of 8 to 10, and have them mentor the teachers with a score of 5 through 7. If after a year of mentoring the 5 through 7's don't improve, fire them too. You see every kid and every parent in America knows already who the "good" and "bad" teachers are. They talk about it on the playground and in the carpool line. They dread it over the summer and rejoice in the fall if they get the right one. The good teachers love what they do and connect with kids and are effective, in spite of the fact that single grade large classes with too much emphasis on testing is flat out the wrong way to teach.  I have had five children join my school in the past month, and four out of five of them had "bad" teachers. These kids were miserable, and when you are miserable you cannot learn. If the Obama administration isn't really going to reform public school, then at least they could do the kids of America this one favor- get the people who don't love kids, and love what they are doing, out of the classroom. The people to make this decision are not the administrators, not the statisticians, not the policy wonks, but the kids and the parents. At my school we call these people the "customers", and even in education, the customer should still be king.


narrator said...

Across the nation kids enter school at five thrilled to be there and by age eight they'd rather be anywhere else, they hate books, they think maths are irrelevant, and they are bored to death by "learning." You simply could not do a 'better job' at destroying children than we are doing in most schools.

And the solution is to test more and to offer merit pay for short term gains on tests? Have we learned nothing from watching our bankers?

I commented on your comment on my blog that we do not lack examples of what really works - but we choose to do something else. Why?

Maybe we just don't want to do the right things.

- Ira Socol

Kelly Homolka said...

Thanks for commenting Ira. We don't use technology at our school (for the obvious reason that all of our kids have economic means and they have it at home) but your argument to use technology to level the playing field is the first one I have read that makes sense. People with the economic means do not LET their children fail- they pull them out and put them in private schools like mine or they get tutors. It is the people without means who are truly suffering in our society. In what ways are "all men created equal?" Only in the sense that we are all human, and as such deserve to be treated with dignity. If America does not offer "our tired and our poor and our hungry" an opportunity to learn, then what do we offer??