Last week I waxed philosophical (ok, bitched a little) about how 43k isn't all it's cracked up to be. Towards the end of my student teaching Governor Christies across the board budget cuts were announced and I was able to witness the teacher's outcries first hand. And then discussion about pay cuts, staff cuts and merit pay began to trickle in and things started to get really hairy.
The discussion about tying teacher's pay to student performance isn't new and has been going on for quite some time. President Obama has voiced his support for merit pay and would like to see more districts added to The Teacher Incentive Fund. The Teacher Incentive Fund, which currently supports 34 recipients to the tune of $97 million, was created to encourage school districts to develop performance based teacher and principal comepnsation programs. One of the main goals is to improve student achievement by increasing the effectiveness of teachers and principals through monetary compensation as well as increasing the number of effective teachers in poor, and disadvantaged schools.
Should teachers be given a monetary incentive to perform better? Bumping up standardized tests scores and earning a few more dollars along the ways sounds like a win-win situation, gold stars all around. After all, isn't getting students to learn something my job? In most other professions employee compensation is often directly tied to performance reviews, productivity and earnings, so why not teacahers?
I suppose when contrasted to a corporate model, schools these days might be likened to a flailing company in need of an overhaul. Despite the recent well publicized budget cuts, American spending on education has nearly doubled since the 1970s, going from $270 billion to roughly $583 billion in 2007.
And though some of spending can be attributed to larger enrollments, and improved services for special education some claim that the increase is just a lot of empty spending. And they might be right to some extent. Last week the results of the Program for Internationl Student Assesment (PISA) test, given by the UN OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) were released. Out of the 65 countries tested students from Shanghai ranked the highest in scores in reading, math and science. Students from the United States came in 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 30th in math.
Despite the few extra billion dollars going towards education, students in the U.S continue to fall behind the rest of the world in reading, math and science, while developing countries like India and China are starting to leap ahead. Incredulous! Purportedly Third World countries with a fraction of the budget of the US really out performing our little angels? Of course it has to be the teacher's fault. Those evil schools that take take take our tax money without teaching our children diddly-squat.
Or maybe there can be more to raising student achievement than just the classroom teacher.
To paraphrase President Obama, teachers cannot turn off the TV or put away video games. Teachers, no matter how effective, cannot make sure your child leaves for school on time and does their homework when they get back at night. These are things only a parent can do.
Could it be that countries like China are simply placing more emphasis on the importance of education? Statistically, Chinese students more time on core subjects like math, scienc and reading and less time on athletics, music and extra-curricular activities than American students. In Japan, juku or cram schools are weekend classes designed to help students to excel in school and study for the rigorous standardized testing required for advancement. And in India students are trampled by elephants if they fail (just kidding, but I'm sure they have something).
In contrast to countries like China and Japan whose students spend long hours hitting the books, Finnish students spend a fraction of the time on schoolwork yet still surpass American students when it comes to test scores. So What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart? Some attribute it to the homogenous population and the low disparity between 'rich' and 'poor' districts. Almost everyone speaks Finnish and there are smaller income disparities between Finns. Finland also seperates high schoolers in the last three years based on grades. Those with the highest grades continue through high school and onto the college track, those with lower grades continue into vocational schools which means that not all students are earmarked for college, unlike the United States.
ThoughFinland makes education seem so simple, the problems faced by schools in the U.S are much more complex. About 10.5% of the U.S student population are English language learners. 79% are from Spanish language backgrounds and are more heavily concentrated in states like Arizona, California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois. The U.S also boasts greater in come disparities than Finland, which are often reflected in the quality of education provided in lower income area areas.
Students from low income backgrounds often receive less academic support at home, and at times lack basic neccessties like adequate nutrition, comfortable environment and supplies that are critical to make learning possible. No matter how great the teacher is, children are going to find it difficult to learn if they can't speak the language, come to school hungry, or don't have parental support at home.
When you add everything up is it fair to tie a teacher's salary when so many other factors contribute to student achievement?