Monday, July 30, 2007

OpEd in Sunday's Oklahoman

This appeared in the Sunday edition of the Oklahoman. You can link it at and check for other comments or you can read it here.

Over the last two weeks, a variety of people have weighed in with their ideas about merit pay and what the Oklahoma Education Association believes about this issue. Now it’s my turn.

First, the concept of merit pay has been around since the 19th century---and the plans have never stuck because they don’t work. Every twenty years or so, policymakers resurface merit pay and try to pitch it as a novel, cutting edge idea to avoid talking about the areas where they have failed our children, teachers, and schools.

We know that smaller class sizes, modern technology, current textbooks, and quality teachers in every classroom are essential for student success. We also know that adequate and equitable education funding gives teachers the necessary tools and resources to get the job done.

Merit pay is simply a smoke screen that does nothing to solve the real issues affecting public education. We need to focus on the things that matter and the things we know will help improve student success and make the teaching profession attractive to more people.

In addition to the salary schedule, we support incentives for teachers to mentor new colleagues, group incentives that offer teachers the opportunity to gain greater autonomy and discretion in all school matters, incentives to individuals to teach in hard to staff schools, and rewarding teachers who have credentials directly related to their teaching assignments and/or the mission of their schools, to name a few.

Comparing us to doctors or lawyers is a ridicules argument. Those professions pick their own customers and set their own fees. Teachers in public education prepare all kids to lead productive and successful lives. We teach whoever walks through the door without regard to ethnicity, gender, or ability to pay. We accept them all. In all honesty, can other professions make the same claim?

In the January 1999 issue of Education Week, Adam Urbanski said, “Anyone who promotes merit pay must believe that teachers are best motivated by financial incentives. They assume that teachers could do a better job, but they are holding back because there is not enough in it for them. The worst thing about tying pay to performance is that it leads to harmful practice for the very students that it purports to help. Children’s learning suffers when teachers are forced to worry more about test scores than about real learning.”

Oklahoma’s per pupil expenditure is 47th in the country. Our teacher’s, despite a plan to get us to the regional average, are over $1,000 below the average. Our legislators know, by their own study not released to the public, that education is vastly underfunded. The amount is an embarrassing reminder of where our state ranks in its commitment to kids. In an effort to shift accountability, they place the blame on how our teachers are paid, instead of looking in the mirror for the real truth.

No comments: