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Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2014

Reward the good, fire the bad

Friday, May 14, 2010

American education is at a crossroads and where we go from here will, in large part, determine this country's future as a major player on the world stage. In particular, we have fallen behind several countries in educational achievement.

The United States is 9th among industrialized countries in producing high school graduates and 7th in producing college graduates. Twenty years ago we were first in both categories.

Compared with Europe and Asia, 15 year olds in the United States score below average in applying math skills to real-life tasks. The top countries are Finland, Korea, The Netherlands, Japan, Canada and Belgium.

Among the 38 industrialized countries in the world, America does best in reading, ranking 7th. The down side of this statistic is that the gap between America's best readers and its worst readers is greater than any other country.

We rank 9th in science, 20th in problem solving and 24th in math.

We live in an ever shrinking world and the things that happen to us are more influenced by other countries than ever before and that shrinkage will continue. If we're going to be competitive on the world stage, as we've been in the past, we must do better educationally, an area we've seen spiral downward over the past quarter century.

But where do we start? The obvious place is with quality teaching. Departments of Education in college and universities across the country typically are fairly close to the bottom among college majors in attracting students with high GPA's and test scores. This means that the typical public school system isn't attracting the best and the brightest; they're, in fact, attracting just the opposite.

While colleges and universities continue to do well in comparison with other countries, our public education system is not only slipping but will continue to slip until more competent, qualified, and passionate teachers can be recruited and the best way to do that is with economic incentives, based on professional achievement.

This has been a sore spot for teacher's unions forever and continues to be today. But for the first time in memory, a Democratic President is directly confronting these powerful unions, which have always aligned themselves with the Democratic Party, telling them they need to change their game plan before the game is lost forever. And he's doing this by encouraging merit pay rather than across the board salary increases.

Since I've spent my entire career teaching at the college and university level, I've worked in both systems. Systems that are unionized are supported by expertise at the union level and a team of negotiators work for equal percentage pay increases for all faculty members. Schools not unionized evaluate their instructors and professors individually and give the highest raises to those who have high student and administrative evaluations and high student productivity in the classroom. Average teachers receive smaller increases and below-average teachers receive no increases at all and are put on notice to improve or lose their jobs.

I think most people reading this column understands the concept of motivation. Put simply, it's the old carrot and the stick routine. Hold out rewards for individuals and they will work harder to achieve those rewards. Treat everyone the same and some will, but some won't.

Anyone who has ever sat in a classroom at any level knows there is a difference in teachers, just like there's a difference in carpenters, lawyers, plumbers, and doctors. One size doesn't fit all. We're not the same. There are good ones, mediocre ones and bad ones in every profession and capitalism has a way of rewarding the good and punishing the bad.

That tends not to happen, however, when everyone receives the same increase, regardless of their skill and expertise. So even though I'm a union member and the President of our faculty association at the college for the past five years, I support financial rewards based on achievement and accomplishment, rather than longevity and tenure because I think that's the only way we begin to turn our educational deficit around and reclaim our historical spot as the best in the world.


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The U.S. is also one of only a few countries that does not offer different tracks for different levels of ability. Some countries test the children in the primary grades and have the brightest go on to a college prep type track while others go to a vocational track and still others just end their education at that time. Not ever child has the same ability. Not ever child learns at the same rate.

-- Posted by dennis on Fri, May 14, 2010, at 12:33 PM

Not ever teacher has great grammar, either.

-- Posted by croswind on Fri, May 14, 2010, at 2:47 PM

When Obama actually goes against the Teachers Unions I will believe it but please the democrats are a wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers unions.

-- Posted by Chaco1 on Fri, May 14, 2010, at 4:08 PM

I have heard this argument against Merit Pay for years. Let's evaluate teachers based on how well the students improvement under teacher guidance and instruction. This can be done based on Achievement, State and Local Criterion Referenced Tests. The overall percentage of students showing improvement can determine the amount of merit pay received by each core teacher.

-- Posted by Online on Sat, May 15, 2010, at 2:40 PM

The problems with Achievement tests is that teachers start to teach only the things specifically on the test as that is what the teachers are being graded on.

The book Freakonomics has a good chapter based on achievement tests showing how Chicago teachers manipulated grades and the way they caught some of them and were able to send a message to the others.

Achievement tests should probably be apart of the equation, but they should not be the be all end all factor.

-- Posted by npwinder on Sun, May 16, 2010, at 12:29 AM

There is a new approach to student achievement, NWEA-MAPS. It is done online and based on Nebraska Standards. Its main emphasis is on student progress and not end point scoring. They have come along way to overcome the achievement test bias.

-- Posted by Online on Sun, May 16, 2010, at 7:03 AM

If we have tests that are based on what we want the kids to learn and the teachers do not know what is pulled from the curriculum wouldn't that be a win win?

-- Posted by Chaco1 on Sun, May 16, 2010, at 10:03 AM

Nebraska Standards are mandated by the Nebraska Department of Education because of Rule 10 passed by State Legislature. Teachers are required to teach and assess those standards. My plan to provide Merit Pay to teachers is listed below:

Teachers would make an application to request consideration to be evaluated for Merit Pay. Not all teachers want to be involved. The ones that do, will go the "extra mile". The application would include their resume, teaching awards, professional development, community work, etc. After reading the application, a committee made up of local Administrators and Board Members would determine teacher eligibility for the merit system. Merit pay has to be based on quality of education. Good teachers improve student learning. So, the most important part is to measure the improvement in a three achievement test system; Norm Reference (Terra-Nova, NWEA, ITBS or Stanford), NeSA State Tests (Reading, Writing, Math and Science) and NeSA Preparation Tests (local CRT). Currently, these tests are used for school improvement and all scores are computerized. Therefore, a computerized program could be written to take the beginning baseline for a teacher's students and compare to the final scores for the academic year. The program would look at the increase and decrease in scores and provide an + or - overall percent of students that showed improvement. If a overall positive 80% of the students showed improvement, teacher could receive 80% of the Merit Pay allotted to eligible teachers. The computer program would be objective and the selection committee would be subjective. A good mix and a fair process for Core Teachers.

Optional: Teachers could apply as a team. For example, a Core teacher with a music or FFA teacher. They could work together to improve test scores and share the merit dollars.

-- Posted by Online on Sun, May 16, 2010, at 11:10 AM

Chaco who would be this we that determines what it is that's wanted for students to learn?

My longtime contention has been that the base cause for the devaluation of education in this country is that this country has never decided just what it is that constitutes a "good" education and a "well-educated"individual.Until such time as we have clear goals such as that in mind our educational system will remain vague and prey to the latest fads. This devaluation also impairs our ability to attract and retain highly competent and motivated people to the profession of teaching.

-- Posted by davis_x_machina on Mon, May 17, 2010, at 8:57 AM

davis_x_machina: Checkout the Nebraska Standards (http://www.nde.state.ne.us/Assessment/Standards.htm) for Math, Reading, Science and Social Studies. Your representatives (State School Board and Legislature) in our Republic have made the decision, as to what needs to be taught and learned. Most quality teacher leave the profession because of pay. They realize private enterprise is the way to go.

edmundburke:I agree with your comparison to Test Scores in other countries. We need to explore how to improve our Students' scores. I believe quality teachers are the solution. Education is very socialistic because of the Teacher Unions and their uniform pay schedules. Let's reimburse excellence by paying the the ones that have a positive affect on student learning.

-- Posted by Online on Mon, May 17, 2010, at 3:26 PM


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Mike Hendricks
Mike at Night