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.