President Obama in his speech last night brought up performance pay for teachers. In the 27 years I've been teaching this issue always comes up. Most of those years it was called merit pay. It sounds good, but that doesn't mean it makes sense. Both the NEA and AFT oppose merit pay because it assesses students in order to determine if teachers are successful. The reasoning is that students are our product and therefore their performance should be a measure of our ability.
What is wrong with this reasoning:
1. A human being is not a widget. Inanimate objects, even animals can be manipulated to perform a verifiable function. Humans have free will.
If we followed through on this reasoning we'd be imprisoning every parent of every criminal saying that they didn't raise their kids right. Sometimes the best of parents can be disappointed by a child that chooses to turn to drugs, crime, suicide and another child becomes President (think Jimmy and Billy Carter) and a great humanitarian.
2. It's my job to teach. What I and every teacher is hired to do is teach the subject(s). Critics of educations always want to bring up good teachers and bad teachers. A) who determines this? B) what's the standard?
In my opinion a bad teacher is the teacher who doesn't cover the material. That is their job. If you're a math teacher teach math, so on and so forth. You'd be surprised how many teachers spend their time on other issues or extra-curricular duties and never cover the subject. Not only are they bad teachers, they're frauds. Critics focus on the presentation, inspiration, motivation good teachers bring to the classroom. Guess what as important as this is, not every student in their class is impressed with the presentation, or inspired or motivated. No matter how much of a song and dance you do there's always going to be the kid you says, "This is boring."
Over the years I've known truly great teachers that have accomplished Herculean feats year in and year out walk into the teachers' lounge shaking their heads complaining there's one class they can't get to do anything.
3. It's the students job to learn. When all is said and done it's not the schools, it's not the parents, it's not the teachers, it's the students who must want to learn. Until and unless they want to get the grade; until and unless they want learn; nothing anyone else does will work.
Schools, parents and teachers can provide incentives or consequences to guide the student in the direction we want them, but Free Will still has the upper hand.
4. There is no great mystery about what it takes to better educate our children and help them to succeed. Study after study has proven it: LOWER CLASS SIZES. What this country since 1980 has lost the will to do is provide the necessary funds to build the number of classrooms and hire the number of teachers to do it. Students need more attention from their teachers, to know they care, get more help. In large groups it's too easy for them to give up or hide even with the best of teachers.
Merit pay is just a band-aid thrown to fix an amputated arm.