A foundation for education
Welcome to the first Teachers Corner. It's a place where The Gradebook is offering educators the chance to talk about issues important to their profession and, hopefully, where a conversation will take place. Our first guest blogger is John Perry, a teacher at Forest Hills Elementary in Tampa and a board member and newsletter writer for the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform. He writes:
"If engineers designed buildings like Florida designs education policy, no building would be left standing.
Every building's integrity rests on its foundation. If you build a multi-story condominium on the concrete slab that supports my modest little home, or your condo, probably won't stand very long. If you build the entire edifice of your education policy on a single, very fallible standardized test, it won’t take long before the integrity of the entire system has been undermined.
Now take this weakened, distorted system and add one more weight FCAT wasn't designed to bear: teacher pay. Basing teacher pay on student performance can sound appealing until you take a closer look. Under STAR (Special Teachers Are Rewarded), Florida's newest performance pay plan for teachers, 25 percent of teachers will be awarded 5% bonuses based mostly on test scores. So what's the problem with that?
• Why the arbitrary 25%? Who says that only 25% of teachers deserve the bonus?
• Florida ranks 30th in average teacher pay. Shouldn't we get teachers' base salaries up to a competitive level before we start talking about bonuses? Outgoing Education Commissioner John Winn claims that STAR will "go a long way to attracting and keeping top teachers." Keeping wages low and instituting unpopular bonus schemes will neither attract nor keep top teachers. If anything, it's the ideal way to get rid of them. Can teachers buy a home or a car based on a bonus they might not get the next year? Is that kind of uncertainty a way to attract and keep teachers?
• It is well-known that standardized test scores are strongly correlated to income. Hillsborough County claims to have formulas to account for that, so teachers of lower-income students will be given a fair chance at a bonus. That might work for general statistical purposes, but how can a formula account for the individual, real, live, little human beings in my classroom and all the variables that can affect their performance? Does the formula take into account the affects of a death in the family? A house damaged by fire or natural disaster? A bitter divorce? Teachers often work minor (and sometimes, major) miracles in their attempts to help their students. But should teacher pay be based on test scores that are strongly influenced by factors teachers have no control over?
• What about the roughly half the teachers who don't teach an FCAT-tested subject? How can you compare and rank teachers of completely different subjects who use completely different assessments?
• Will bonus-earners be good teachers, or will they be teachers who supplant teaching with test prep?"
If you'd like to be a guest blogger for the Teachers Corner, send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.