Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Teacher merits

This is just a small part of the debate about teachers, administrations and school districts budgets. More to come as the season rolls on. - JD

Quite a bit of debate in these days of belt-tightening and budget slashing is focused on teachers' salaries.  The conservative view would be that teachers are highly paid, without tangible, measurable results. After all, how can one measure how much a teacher cares about their students' achievement? The Bush administration tried to combat that view with No Child Left Behind, which, while there are many intricacies and trade-offs, roughly amounted to using student test scores to judge teacher effectiveness.  This method of evaluation lacks common sense in so many ways that it just makes me shake my head, but, at the very least... somebody tried something!

You can find many arguments, both pro and con, on NCLB... so go do some homework.

The question remains... do teachers make too much money?
As I have stated before, this question is really only half of the question.  Do teachers make too much compared to X would be the way to ask it in order to get an answer.  Of course, that is predicated on the notion that you want facts as opposed to simply emotional table-pounding.
So, if the question is; Do teachers in my district make too much compared to other states?- 

teacher portal or

... you can judge for yourself if your district pays teachers comparably to other states.

If you base the question on comparable business standards, which I think is flawed on it's face, (how can you compare a middle management worker who oversees adults to someone with the immeasurable task of teaching our kids to be ready to compete in a global economy?), you can easily see that nobody seems to agree on this, and the arguments swing wildly, depending on your political bent.

OC Register
6 reasons

The above links are just examples... not intended to be an exhaustive list.

The real problem, in my opinion, is that teachers aren't paid based on merit.  Good teachers make the same as great teachers, who make the same as crappy teachers. The seniority rules and tenure system are the basis for the plight we are faced with these days.  Who would deny a teacher a high five- or low six figure salary if they were producing high achieving students on a consistent basis?  The answer, I admit, eludes me.  How do you measure a good teacher?

Teachers fresh out of school often take jobs in urban or low-income districts to shore up their credentials, help pay off loans and for a variety of other reasons.  These are the teachers who are well-versed in up-to-the-minute tech and research advances in the educational field.  They are also the teachers who are charging forward, the fervent gleam in their eyes, ready to change the world and make a difference in a kid's life. (That's not to say that all teachers who have remained in the field have lost that desire, or that all teachers fresh out of college have it, but... well, you know what I mean...).  These are also the teachers who are the first to see the dreaded pink slip when budget season comes around, or their union negotiates a particularly aggressive contract necessitating layoffs.  This creates a revolving door of teachers in these hard-hit areas... something districts that are better off economically try to avoid with higher pay scales and beefier contract benefits. Often those policies result in more drastic belt-tightening every 6 or 7 years as the economic indicators swing back and forth.  None of this helps our kids.

So, we need to first find a way to measure the effectiveness of a teacher, and then base our salary and district employee retention models on that. Then we will have the data necessary for debating teacher salaries.

One of my clients happens to be the local school district, and I am the guy standing behind the camera at every school board meeting, capturing the evening for local broadcast. Consequently, I not only attend every meeting, but I actually have to pay attention, and listen to what is going on. So, while I don't profess to be an expert of any sort on school budgets, I do have the opportunity to hear the rationale behind the decisions made by the group of volunteers who sit on our school board.