Friday, October 23, 2009

Today's Random Thoughts

-I somehow missed Thomas Friedman's op-ed the other day.  Pretty standard boilerplate stuff about how we have to fix our schools to fix our economy in the long run.  Except that there's a bit of a twist with the "fix our schools" part.  He writes, "our schools have a doubly hard task now — not just improving reading, writing and arithmetic but entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity."  While anybody who argues that test scores aren't, to some degree, indicative of a person (or country's) academic ability, is wrong, we have to keep in mind that they're not necessarily the ultimate goal.  Improving test scores is a worthwhile endeavor, but we also have to ensure that we train our kids to think if we want to remain the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world.

-David Brooks joined the party today, writing that state legislatures that have recently taken steps to prevent the implementation of merit pay were "moving backwards".  Given that we have virtually no evidence as of yet that merit pay works, I find it . . . let's say, odd . . . when people criticize those who don't implement it.  It's somewhere between speculative and intellectually dishonest to suggest that those who support it are doing the right thing while those who don't are not.

-Bill Ferriter has a distressing piece on the recent school board elections in Wake County, NC.  In case you didn't know, Wake County currently prohibits any school in the county from having a population made up of more than 45% economically disadvantaged students.  The policy seems good on paper -- and there's evidence to support the notion that it's working -- but many people don't like the way it's implemented.  Since neighborhoods are more homogeneous than schools are allowed to be, wide-scale busing is used to integrate schools.  And people don't like their kids getting bused to another neighborhood or other kids getting bused into theirs.  In other words, it looks like NIMBYism might win out yet again.

-Alexander Hoffman shares an interesting quote that I'd never heard before from the recently deceased Ted Sizer: Education is "the worthy residue that remains after the lessons have been forgotten."  That sounds about right.

-One teacher writes about her negative experiences with fill-in teachers from the Absent Teacher Reserve in her school over at GothamSchools.  I have little doubt that there are a number of less-than-committed teachers still in the ATR.  But I also can't help but notice that the coverage of the ATR issue has been more than a little slanted in virtually all media outlets.  More on this next week.


Roger Sweeny said...

It cannot be repeated too often. Most every school system already has a system of merit pay. Teachers get paid more if they have taken more education courses.

If we are going to be consistent, we have to ask what evidence there is that this system "actually works."

My understanding is that the evidence suggests it doesn't. But I suppose it would be too much to expect the people who profit from the current system to apply the same standards to that system as they do to any suggestions for change.

Were ed professors honorable, they would campaign for the abolition of many of their jobs. But, of course, they are no more honorable that executives at GM.

Dora Taylor said...

Merit Pay
This is an issue that is closely associated with charter schools and is a reiteration of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Basically, it requires that teachers pay be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests. For our students, it could be the WASL or a similar test. With the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers and staff were pressured to teach much of the class work to the standardized tests. With so much focus on the test, many other parts of knowledge building, creativity and understanding of subjects and their synthesis with other knowledge had to take a back seat. For many students, teaching to a test meant that they were not able to reach their full potential which would have been far beyond the level of the tests.

No one wins in this situation.

Part of the fallout also is that if a teacher's pay is based on how well their students test, many teachers will want to teach in a school where they know that the students will perform better. Those schools are, for the most part, not the minority schools.

Some students do not perform well on standardized tests for many different reasons and yet a teacher's pay can be tied to that student's performance. High stakes testing also puts pressure and stress on the students who become burdened with the thought that they need to perform well on one test. The test becomes a focus with little opportunity to explore and have fun learning, creating and synthesizing new thoughts and ideas.

For more information, check out:

Roger Sweeny said...

Dora Taylor,

I am curious about what the situation was in Washington before WASL. Did teachers not give tests? Did they give tests but not teach to those tests? Did they teach to the tests but only give tests that measured things like creativity and synthesis?

I think it would be tremendously unfair to base pay on how well students do without knowing where they started. It would be ridiculous to give a bonus to a 5th grade teacher whose students went from a 5th grade to a 5 1/2 level in reading. On the other hand, I think it would be wrong not to give a bonus to a 5th grade teacher whose students went from a 3rd grade to a 4 1/2 level.