Monday, March 16, 2009

Incentive or Punishment?

I would rather think of it as incentive. But I like to look on the bright side.

You know that in 2006, Florida came out with a policy of linking teacher pay to student test scores. On the surface it might sound reasonable, but you have to roll back the carpet on this one to see the bugs. What about great teachers in underfunded schools? Great teachers in schools with high populations of second-language learners? Great teachers in schools where families are walking the razor edge of survival, where parents are working two jobs and can't help with homework, where some parents are MIA, having fallen prey to addiction, violence, or some other poison? See, no matter how great these teachers are, they need to grocery shop, too, and how many will be able to resist the call of being able to buy bread and cheese, and so they will migrate to the neighborhoods with higher-priced real estate. Once again, the kids who have the most need will end up with the worst teachers.

Now President Obama is talking about linking teacher pay to performance. Which makes a lot of people nervous. I am all for it, as long as the performance in question is that of teachers, not solely that of the students, and that the performance is measured in a fair way. We all of us in the (non-gummint) world are paid according to our performance. The man who shines shoes at the casino where I take my weekly UNLV class (everything in Las Vegas happens in a casino, it is just part of the local charm, I guess) makes more money because he does a good job (and is just plain pleasant to talk with); a server at a restaurant makes more money in tips because she is competent at her work. Writers can command a higher rate when they have established a solid reputation, and it's the same for consultants. There's no reason teachers should be exempt from expectations.

What I very much appreciate is the possibility of excellent teachers receiving higher pay. I've always thought if teachers could make a decent living, there'd be more excellent teachers. Last week, someone asked me why I didn't teach anymore (I taught a few community college classes in beginning and remedial composition, which I loved doing), and I said I couldn't afford the pay cut. I have to support my children, you see. And I would put money down--this being Vegas and all, I am picking up the local lingo--that I am not the only one.

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