Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Editorial on Teacher Merit Pay Misses Bigger Picture

Monday's lead editorial praising CCSD's foray into merit pay for teachers glosses over several conceptual weaknesses in the plan. By far the most egregious flaw is the writer's assumption that poorly motivated teachers cause the nation's public education ills.

If only it were that simple!

The U.S. Department of Education, with its grants to school districts, is perpetrating a fraud. It will squander almost $24 million of Other Peoples' Money on overpaid and unproven statistical methods of determining the "progress" of classes and motivating teachers.

Mathematica's $3 million program will adjust for "factors such as poverty."

Does anyone else wonder what the unspecified "factors" are? Low IQ? Single-parent household? Will we be told? Why should we be expecting less progress from a child classified as "poor"? In a district such as Charleston County's will "poor" become a thinly-veiled euphemism for "black"? Didn't we back away from this kind of racist thinking decades ago?

The writer's comments that, "Opponents insist that other attempts to pay teachers based on merit have proven unsuccessful. But those arguments don't hold up," is followed by a series of non sequiturs: no discussion of what actually has happened, merely responses to objections about too much reliance on testing, stifling of creativity, time management, and the above-mentioned statistical formula. Those are not arguments about what has happened previously.

Particularly annoying is the editorial comment that "people in any profession have to learn to set priorities and manage time," implying that most teachers haven't.

The other flaws in CCSD's program involve tenured teachers who might be found substandard. They will not lose their jobs nor any of their pay. Does that make any sense if you buy into the idea that merit pay will work?

Teachers' salaries should be higher; salary schedules are too flat; public education is in deep trouble. We can all agree on these facts. What we cannot agree about is that the solution is to motivate unmotivated teachers.

"It's the parents, stupid!" should be the slogan. What does the editorial board suggest be done about that?

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