As a conservative educator, I frequently find myself in the minority, politically, at the workplace. On the other hand, I hear from my conservative friends that “the public school system is failing” and that teachers should have “merit-based pay” while parents should receive vouchers to be able to transfer their children to private schools rather than suffer the atrocities of the public system. Dick Morris (with whom I agree about 90% of the time) writes in his book, Outrage, (an excellent read by the way, except for the chapter on education) support for merit based pay and compares the public education system to the military. He writes that the schools are rated according to dollars spent per student and compares that to rating the military by dollars spent per soldier rather than by success on the battle field.
In order to understand the flaws in this argument you have to understand what is required for a student to be successful and the many factors that effect test scores and grades and learning in general. Educators spend countless hours creating lessons and activities to form a learning environment that will maximize the experience for the students during the six hour school day. However, students are away from their teachers for the other 18 hours of the day and teachers cannot be held responsible for what happens during that time. The majority of real learning takes place during homework time. Teachers give information and demonstrate how to process information, but the student has to practice on their own if they want to be good at something. Unfortunately, students are often left to their own to do their homework and, frankly, just do not have the wisdom to make good choices without guidance. We have become a culture of double incomes and single parents. By necessity, parents need to find different ways to motivate their children to do well in school. Often, however, the result is an expectation that the school take a larger role in the raising of the children.
To continue with Dick Morris’ comparison to the military, the armed forces have extensive training at the onset of a soldier’s military experience. What happens to those soldier hopefuls who don’t make it through boot camp? They are kicked out, expelled, removed from the military. We don’t have public school boot camp. Some schools do. They are called private schools. They have entrance requirements. If the students don’t meet the requirements, they are not allowed in… they go back to public school. I guarantee the students do not get a better education from better educators in a private school.
Truth be told, if you let me kick all the students out of school who refuse to try, who won’t do homework, who won’t take notes or show up on test days or make up missing work, you let me eliminate those students from my class and I’ll raise my average test scores. Until then, don’t talk to me about merit based pay for teachers.