Fixing Education

Fixing Education
Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the annual meeting of the National Education Association (NEA) on July 2, 2009. He told the delegates from this incredibly large group of educators that one of his plans for fixing education is to institute merit pay for teachers. The merit pay, he explained, would be linked to: a teacher's evaluation by her superior, any extra work the teacher performed, and (drum roll, please) the standardized test scores of her students.

"No! No!" cried the delegates. “You cannot link our paychecks to their test scores! That is not fair! No! No!" In fact, according to the July 7, 2009 edition of Education Week, one delegate called out, "Merit pay is union busting."

But Mr. Duncan, also according to Education Week, feels that, within the current union structure, teachers are treated as "interchangeable widgets." Therefore, I am assuming he feels his merit pay scheme will allow teachers to break free from the mold and empower them to be all they can be, or, to be all they can get paid to be.

Fixing education is not a new goal. Can you name a recent president who has not been "an education president?" The problems with education -- class differences, district inequalities, budget cuts, children with uninvolved parents, children with a broad spectrum of needs, etc. -- are not new. My greatest concern in all of this is the children.

Within the current system, are they not "interchangeable widgets," too? When Mr. Duncan states, as he did on July 2, that basing teachers' pay on students' scores is valid because "student achievement" must be considered when evaluating teacher performance, is he not also saying that a student's achievement and that student's standardized test score are one and the same?

When Mr. Duncan explains, as reported on on July 2, that the work of teaching is certainly more complex than "a simple multiple-choice exam," but then goes on to call that same exam the sum of a student's achievement, isn't he reducing each child to a pattern of dots on a page that is not even evaluated by a human being, but by a computer?

According to Arne Duncan's biography on the Department of Education's web site, while he was CEO (yes, the business term; you read it correctly) of Chicago's schools, "an all-time high of 66.7 percent of the district's elementary school students met or exceeded state reading standards." If President Obama wants measurable results for fixing education, Mr. Duncan is certainly the man to do the job.

I have no solutions for fixing education. I personally wish that former New York State Teacher of the Year and education activist John Taylor Gatto was the Secretary of Education, but maybe that's because my child is homeschooled.

Whether merit pay is union busting is for other minds to decide. But this I do know: education based on standardized test scores is child-busting.

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