Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Say What?

Earlier this month Governor Charlie Crist of Florida surprised lots of folks by vetoing a school ‘reform’ bill passed by the state legislature. Who knows how this figures into his political calculations; I’ll just say that the veto made educational sense.

The major fault of the bill was its connecting teacher promotion and pay to student scores on standardized tests. Despite loads of evidence that schemes do not work (http://www.forumforeducation.org/node/483 and http://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/today2.html), and even more evidence from around the world that the best way to improve teaching is to invest in and support them, we just don’t seem to want to learn that lesson. I think it is because of the mythology that surrounds so-called performance pay.

Even the esteemed New York Times falls prey to this myth. In the reporting on the Crist veto, the reporter had this to say about performance pay: “teachers should be treated like people in most professions, and paid based on how effective they are.” What Kool-Aid is that reporter drinking?

Really, name for me one profession we pay for based on performance outside of professional athletes. Let’s try and few and see what we get.

Doctors: Well, I know I don’t pay my doc based on how good I feel. When I am sick, I go see him and he tells me what to do or writes a prescription, good enough. But when I walk out of the office I pay the cost of the office visit whether or not I will get well; I pay on faith. Further, I don’t think we want a system of physician reimbursement based on people getting well—put simply enough, if your pay depends upon success (wellness), who would have treated my father as he died from Alzheimer’s? Pay docs and nurses for performance and watch how quickly the seriously ill and elderly find it impossible to find care.

Lawyers: Despite the fact that some lawyers make good on big cash settlements, very few of them are in that ballpark. Nope, most of them get paid in defending you whether or not you win, arranging divorces no matter who gets the house, and helping you keep your driving privileges even if you have to pay the ticket.

Firefighters: Pay them for performance and the next thing you know they will be setting fires so they can collect more fees. (I don’t really believe they would do that, but you see the logic.)

The point is that in every case we pay not for performance, but for judgment. I don’t expect my doctor to get paid for every pound I lose or every drop in my blood pressure; I pay him to help me gain the tools to be healthy. And I have lots of ways to know if I should trust his judgment. For example, when I follow his directions, do I get better; what do his other patients say about him; and can he answer my questions about my care (even take time to listen to my questions).

It is the same with teachers. In a recent post Marion Brady points out that teachers have always been accountable—to those they teach and their parents. The point is not to narrow accountability to so-called performance measured by standardized tests; trust me, any teacher or school can figure out how to nudge up scores through mind numbing drills, bribing kids with money, or simply pushing kids out the door before its time for the test. Rather, what we should be doing is investing in teachers’ judgment through improving preparation, support, and development of our teaching force. It’s what we do in the other professions, and it is time we did it for teachers as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment