Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Support for Idiotic Fads is Highest Among New Teachers

although, I may have misread that statistic. Education News has this article stating "Support for Education Reform Highest Among New Teachers".
A new survey shows that teachers entering the workforce are more open to accepting changes pushed for by education reform advocates, such as linking pay and promotions to performance, than their longer-serving peers. 

Merit pay works.
Okay, I'm being slightly facetious but my sarcasm hides a valid point.

I have been teaching for nearly thirty years. I have seen, or developed, or participated in, many reforms over those years. Many of those reforms stunk, were stupid, wrongheaded, but they were all promising fundamental change that would help our students.  That's why we tried them.

Some reforms succeeded beyond our wildest dreams ... special ed foremost among them.  I can remember times when students were pushed into a closet and ignored because they were troublesome. I can remember when students were ignored if they had a learning disability.  IDEA helped change that culture and changed many lives.  We have to reach a balance between the two extremes but overall, that change is good.

If, on the other hand, a reform failed before, and the new reform looks very much like the old reform, should I ignore the similarity and forge onward?  Should I forget that I am being paid more than those new teachers ... mostly because of experience teaching ... should I forget that experience and forge onward with the "new" idea? Should I forget the mistakes I have made and make them again?

No, no, a thousand times, NO.

I truly feel that some of the loudest voices are those who are most wrongheaded.  Merit pay is a bad idea.  I have seen it fail and I have no desire to see it fail again. 

I would be happy to see reforms "such as linking pay and promotions to performance" if only someone could explain how to measure that and who would measure that.  It would be nice if anyone had the least bit of research that said this type of scheme actually worked.  (See Dan Pink, below)

In the past decade or so, my principals have embraced "Verbatim Observations" - writing down every word said in the room instead of simply watching and listening. This happens once a year. If you think I'm going to accept letting $5000 rest on that flimsy an evaluation, you are sadly mistaken.

If you insist $5000 of my income be based on my students' performance on a single test, try again. I will do everything in my power to stack the deck - against the test, against my colleagues, against the scheduler. That kid who's not working very hard - move him out. That kid in the other teacher's class - "sorry, too busy". Letting the department in on a great project? Not a chance. Cooperation in department meetings and curriculum development? Not if it means I am at a disadvantage when bonuses come out. If another teacher needs help with technology ... "I haven't tried that yet. I don't know."

You need to watch this.
Hey, let's be real.  When you talk a significant amount of money, then you have changed the focus. As Daniel Pink says in Drive, you need to pay people enough to get the question of money off the table.  Then get out of the way. Money sours the deal and makes performance worse.

Yet merit pay is high on the reformers list and high on the New Teachers' list.
 Specifically, while veteran teachers broadly reject the idea that student achievement metrics should be a part of teacher evaluation, newer teachers were much more open to the idea. The younger teachers went even further, broadly supporting the idea that student growth should play not just a role, but should be a substantial factor in judging instructor effectiveness. While veteran teachers rejected the idea outright, those with ten years of experience or less thought that it should make up at least 20% of the final assessment score.
If you are a new teacher and you disagree with me because you think I'm wrong and here's why ...fine. I'll listen and then offer my experience because you might not realize, with your fresh newly printed certification, that you don't have all the answers.

You might not realize how wrong you are.

Finally, we asked teachers if they would be willing to replace the current compensation and tenure systems with a performance-based system with much higher starting and top salaries. Here, New Majority teachers are far more supportive of a change to the status quo; specifically, 42 percent of New Majority teachers and just 15 percent of veteran teachers support such a change.
Before you reject my resistance as silly, ask WHY.


  1. I'm a second year teacher who, two years ago, thought - hell yes, I want merit pay. Why did I think that?

    - Well, I'm 70k deep in student loans, so I wanna make monnneeeeeyyyyy

    - I'm going to be an awesome teacher - everyone tells me so

    - I'll work my ass off and earn that pay.

    However, it doesn't take very long to realize that

    A: No new teacher is great. Even the really, really good ones.

    B: Extrinsic rewards don't help (see your linked video). However, if you can give me an extra 2 hours a day...

    C: If we have merit pay, how willing are those more experienced and better teachers going to be to help me get better and take their cash?

    D: Duh - outside of school factors and lack of ability of evaluations to account for them.

    To the soon-to-be teachers: I was you just recently. Trust all the old people when they say it won't work. Because once you're in the trenches, it's blatantly obvious.

  2. Awesome post, now instead of trying to explain this to all my friends who think merit pay is the answer and that all the older teachers are crap, I can just send them here :)

  3. I am a third year teacher and I have never supported merit pay. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that we have no valid measurements and no way to conduct those measurements. Until those things are reliably available, the ten minutes my principal spends in my classroom once a quarter just don't cut it in my opinion.

    Perhaps my attitude comes from my mom, a kindergarten teacher, but I'd rather be surrounded by teachers with thirty years of experience. I've found they know when to say no, because they've seen it before and I haven't. But on the other hand, it's tough not to buy into the cynicism. And experienced teachers can be a cynical lot at times. I find it's a balancing act to retain my naive idealism and willingness to try new things tempered by the wisdom of experience around me.

    Anyway, this post was excellent. Thanks for sharing your experience!