Lately most pay and promotion in public schools has been tied to credentials and credits from colleges of education. Currently we are seeing a shift towards basing teacher compensation upon student achievement. This achievement is often based upon standardized testing performance. Which model is fair?
It is fair to base teacher salary upon the academic achievement of the students? If you ask this question, be prepared to hear several points of view.
Many teachers and administrators will point out that they have a limited influence upon the academic achievement of their students. A child from a troubled home can only do so well in even the best classroom environment. People who agree with this viewpoint will say it is not fair to hold a teacher accountable for the academic performance of every student in the class. This group of people strongly believe that the pay of a classroom teacher should be based upon years of service and professional development course work.
The opposing viewpoint strongly asserts that any teacher, regardless of years of service or professional development course work, who ensures the academic success of all his or her students, should be fairly compensated. This means that a first year teacher, theoretically, could receive the same pay as a veteran teacher. This idea has many seasoned educators crying out “Unfair!”
As in many areas of life, the best solutions often come when we try to balance two opposing viewpoints. In this case, great strides towards fairness can be achieved if the definition of effectiveness is broadened. If a school district decides to reward teachers based on effectiveness, it is only fair to include as many observable indicators of teacher effectiveness as possible. Besides student achievement on standardized tests, students daily work should be evaluated, as well as teacher’s lesson plans and self-developed curriculum. Teachers of all experience level should be regularly observed teaching in their classrooms. With recent advances in technology and statistics, it is possible to correlate teaching practices with student achievement and reach definite conclusions.
Most states do not use the merit pay system for compensating teachers. Tennessee is one state which does, and New York is one state which has passed a law strictly prohibiting merit pay to be used for teacher compensation. Our current administration is asking states like New York to repeal these laws.
There is a strong belief that the most effective teachers have a combination of a broad base of knowledge in their subject area, plus training in pedagogy. Which is more important? Many say neither is more important than the other. Will having both ensure that teacher is effective? Not one hundred percent, but it increases the likelihood.
Teach for America is a popular program that has been under the microscope lately. People without education degrees are being hired as teachers in districts that have a difficult time retaining certified teachers. These young people sign up for a two-year stint. The main complaint against Teach for America? That effectiveness in teaching can only come through continued experience, just the kind of experience that Teach for America does not provide. In other words, two years is not long enough to create an effective teacher. Some disagree with this statement. There are many people who are effective teachers, who have never taken an education class. They are the natural born leaders of our culture. But right now in our country most natural leaders cannot secure an education job without a degree. Teach for America is a program that was started to try to address that very issue. And it is hoped that the people who participate in teach for America will go to an institution of higher education and get a degree in education and return to teaching in public schools.
How much pedagogy is enough? Some colleges of education are criticized for focusing on pedagogy alone. Other institutions attempt to deliver a balance of subject material and pedagogy. These institutions get higher scores for their perceived effectiveness. True effectiveness can only be discovered in the classroom.
What is effective teaching? Students can score well on the test, but not actually have mastered the subject matter. Our classrooms are full of students who are “test smart”, but do they really know the subject matter? Many feel that effective teaching creates students who retain an excitement for learning, know the resources they need to achieve mastery of a subject, and know how to get around any roadblocks that stand in their way. And what about our administrators and teachers themselves? It is a shame, but not every principal and teacher today can write a letter home to a parent without making a spelling or grammar error.
No matter your view on No Child Left Behind or merit pay, this is an issue which affects us all. Of course we want effective teachers for all children. But exactly how to achieve that remains debatable.