Friday, March 13, 2009

Merit’s no fun if somebody else has it, too

This must absolutely frost King Banaian:

If you want to know why St. Cloud has been tossed out of the Q-Comp program that Governor Pawlenty touted to increase teacher performance through, inter alia, pay for performance, you need only read these two paragraphs:

About 96 percent of the district’s 750-800 teachers participate in Q-Comp. A teacher in the program receives about $2,000 and teachers who accept leadership roles in the program earn a stipend.
...The decision is also significant for the district because of dollars tied to two staff development days agreed to in the district’s contract with teachers.

Last year those days were paid for with Q-Comp money. Now the district will have to find money in next school year’s budget to pay for the days.

no As the StarTribune pointed out last month, it ain't merit pay if 99% of teachers get it. And it ain't merit pay if you're using the money to pay for a staff development day for everyone. H/T for the STrib link to Kevin McNellis at Growth and Justice, who says Pawlenty "must mandate the use of quantified measures of teacher merit" to make this program go. The suspension of St. Cloud from the program is actually a good first step, since it was the inability of the district and the local union to agree on revising the teacher contract to include merit pay that was why Q-Comp was in trouble here. (The school superintendent up here, who has taken up blogging, acknowledges this.) Maybe the district and the teachers union can now come to an agreement on providing for real merit pay where not everybody is above average.

You see, boys and girls, Banaian has his arse clenched so tight and is so invested in the competition model of human interaction that he cannot understand that K-12 teachers, including by and large the demonstrably superior ones, aren’t interested in competing with each other. They cooperate with one another every day in dealing with students and their academic and behavioral issues. It would seem odd and immoral to most teachers to withhold a tip or teaching materials for the purpose of looking a little better in comparison. That’s partly why they’re teachers. If they wanted to make their bones by slitting the throats of their co-workers, why, they’d leave K-12 and become department heads at colleges somewhere. [Joke, attributed to Henry Kissinger: Why are academic politics (in higher ed) so vicious? Because so little is at stake.]

But the professor can’t be happy if some little part of the world doesn’t run according to the Social Darwinist construct envisioned by the blighted “science” of economics. Compete, damn you, bellows the professor. Teacher bargaining units all over the state look at Banaian, give a sad little smile, and say, It really doesn’t work that way.

And let Spot ask you this, Professor: how do you quantify what a good teacher is? Do the parents of the students get to vote? That would just give the sociopaths and malcontents — like some people Spot might mention — even more incentive to jerk teachers around. Test scores? What about the teacher who gets assigned (or volunteers for) a bigger share of students with academic and/or behavioral problems, perhaps caused by parents who are sociopaths or malcontents? Or parents who are just too poor, or badly educated themselves, or too busy putting food on the table to help their kids?

It’s the social conditions that kids bring to school that is the biggest determinant of how they do. But it is just so much more politically convenient to blame the “achievement gap” on the schools than look at real causes: segregated housing patterns, poverty, inadequate health care, the list goes one.

But look at some of the successful charters, Banaian (or Katie, may she rest in opinionated peace) may say? Charter school students are a self-selecting bunch, put there by parents with the energy and ambition for their children to get them into a different school.

When you take inner-city kids and put them in suburban districts, though, as the “It’s Your Choice” program does, a recent study showed that the inner-city transfers still performed more like their still-in-the-inner-city counterparts than the suburban resident students of the district. It’s late, and Spot doesn’t have a link right now, but he recalls that the study was published by the University of Minnesota last fall.

In spite of what the Professor would have you think, teachers are not stupid. They’ve surveyed this scene and recognize that “merit pay,” if implemented the way Governor Pepsodent and King Banaian would like, is just an excellent way to get beat up in a system stacked against them. That’s why unions were created in the first place and the unions are wary about “merit pay.”

Spot says it’s too bad, Professor, but he doesn’t see teachers turning themselves into the little cannibal fish that you would like. But Spot tells you what: there must some junior faculty members you can jerk around about their publishing or the fact they gave too many good grades last semester. It’ll make you feel much better.

No comments: