Children are our future. We know this not just because its so painfully
obvious but because political candidates tell us this every election
cycle. In fact, its one of the campaign clichés on which we can count,
election after election after election.
As companions to their clichés, the politicians will demand uber-qualified
teachers, a more demanding curriculum to better prepare our children for
the future, more advanced technology (because the future is all about
technology), and expect greater involvement from parents. As a bonus,
because we are desperate for federal funds, we will play along with No
Child Left Behind requirements and develop a statewide standardized test.
It will be perfect. We get it, already.
What many of us dont get is the latest fad performance-based salaries
for teachers. It sounds so logical, doesnt it? We have these tests, all
students take them, so why not pay teachers according to the results?
After all, thats the way the real world operates.
(At this point, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention my
wife is a teacher.)
Its true enough those in the private sector are paid, at least to some
degree, based on how they produce. Were told there is no reason teachers
should be immune to this reality. They are supposed to be educating our
children and we now have a standardized basis on which to judge how
There are some subtle differences.
In the private sector people apply for jobs. In corporations of any size a
Human resources department investigates those applying. Applications are
filled out, work histories are checked. The applicant is matched to an
appropriate opening within the organization based on a job description.
The applicant undergoes a period of training to familiarize himself or
herself with the corporate culture. A probationary period is standard
operating procedure. Performance evaluations are given at predetermined
If the newly-hired employee performs well, salary raises and/or bonuses
are forthcoming. A career path is developed. Promotions and more raises
are possible. If the newly hired employee does not adhere to expectations,
they will surely be terminated and the process begins again with another
Now, imagine you are a manager or supervisor. You have 25 individuals for
whom you are responsible. None applied for the job. No background checks
were undertaken. No job descriptions exist. You have no say as to whether
or not they are under your supervision. You must take whoever is sent
your way. A handful of your new employees are self-motivated
over-achievers. Most are not. One or two do not speak English as a first
language. Another small group has learning disabilities, making it
difficult for them to do their job. No matter. You will receive little
support from your bosses. Your budget is being cut. You are not allowed to
discipline your little group, much less fire any of them. All of them
will likely be promoted regardless of their performance. You have nine
months to whip them into shape. Your salary and your future are dependent
on their performance on a test that presupposes they can all perform
equally. You are a teacher. Your employees are children. Welcome to
the world of performance-based education. Good luck.
It is quite preposterous. Every bit of research ever undertaken shows
children learn at different speeds and at different times in their lives.
The child who struggles and falls behind in the third grade might excel in
the sixth. Too bad for that third grade teacher. The foundation that may
have been built by that third grade teacher that only became evident years
later will be irrelevant. Performance-based evaluations will not take into
account a childs economic disadvantage or abusive home life. The kid did
poorly on The Test too bad for the teacher.
We could try something more logical.
We could return classroom discipline to the teachers and hire
administrators who support them. We could quit whimpering about
childrens self-esteem. No child should ever be berated or humiliated,
but there has to be a consequence when little Jason sticks a pencil in
Tiffanys eye. And mistakes should be noted and corrected.
We could make sure parents understand the rules and the consequences. And
that rules will be enforced.
We could put administrators in the classroom a few times a year, as
substitute teachers, so they understand the realities of todays
classrooms and students.
We could allow school districts to fire incompetent teachers. The bad ones
are no secret and they can negatively impact a students learning for
And we could stop adopting fads, like one-size-fits-all standardized tests
and performance-based salaries that do nothing to better educate our
Yes, I have a distinct and admitted bias for teachers. But ask yourself if
youd like your future to be determined by the test scores of 25
Political consultant Stephen Tuttle is a new columnist for the Express.
He formerly wrote for the Arizona Republic.