As teacher layoffs begin, and as a new teacher myself, it is impossible not to see that there are injustices to the quality-blind system. New teachers are fired first, no matter what, and teachers that are well known to be ineffective are allowed to keep their jobs, year after year. There is something distinctly demoralizing about this system. After all, if your talent and skills in no way effect your yearly income or your job security, than what motivation is there to continue to excel?
Teacher's unions opposed to changing the quality-blind system, point to the fear that older, more experienced teachers will be let go because they make significantly more than new teachers. Enter injustice number two. As a new teacher, I am making about thirty thousand less dollars a year than my close to retirement co-workers. That's a huge difference in pay, and yet no matter how many extra hours I put in, no matter how hard I work to make my classroom an effective place of learning, I must watch in horror as I inch my way up the pay schedule in such pitifully small increments that the idea of ever making a proper living seems but a mirage in the far off distance of my future.
Enter merit pay. Why, if hard work so often goes unnoticed and unrewarded, would any teacher oppose the chance to be rewarded for their extra work? Because merit pay will be attached to test results, that's why, and merit pay attached to test results will lead to a further crippled curriculum. Many teachers point to the unfairness of merit pay for those who work with at-risk youth, at continuation schools, with special needs kids, or in low income neighborhoods. However, we need to shift our attention away from this arguement. Obama and Arne Duncan merely reply that merit pay will be based on improved scores, not on overall scores. So, you could be working at a low performing school, but as long as your students continually test better, you will be in line for merit pay right there with the teachers working in wealthy communities, where test scores are always higher.
This response is full of flaws, but pointing them out seems a waste of time because from the student's perspective, who gets merit pay and who doesn't hardly matters. What matters is that schools, desperate for high test scores, will continue to provide students with the type of learning that works better than Ambien. So, while we argue about quality-blind layoffs, and merit pay, and step and column pay scales, our children are being force fed meaningless content at such an extravagant rate that we are more at risk of becoming imagination deprived automatons than ever before.
There are no easy answers to how to make all kids learn, and how to ensure all schools are safe and productive places of learning. How to layoff teachers fairly, how to swallow huge budget cuts without impacting students, and how to remedy an unfair pay schedule are monumental challenges with many answers, few of them perfect. However, solving every problem by assigning a standardized test, designed to make testing companies billions and provide students with nothing, is not the answer.
STAR testing begins in a couple of weeks. Because I love my school, I have to encourage my students to do well. What I would like to tell them is, revolt! All of you! Organize and revolt! This test is optional, it means nothing to you, but it has the potential to destroy your school. In fact, if Meg Whitman becomes governor of California and gets her way, your school will be given an "F" or a "D" if we're lucky, because you guys don't score well enough on the STAR. Everyone, right now, stand up and walk out. If every student in California refused to test, then the government would be unable to judge you, and your schools in this way.
But I'm a new teacher. I'm not tenured yet. I'm at the bottom of the pay scale. I can't afford to incite a revolution. So, next week, I'll probably go over some literary terms, I'll beg my students to test well, and we'll bribe them with snacks and a BBQ if only they will try. Then my students, who I love and respect, will be given a test that is so hard, they will be lucky if they know half of the answers. If they do try, most of them will leave the experience feeling the way they always do in school. Stupid. Next year, they will get a paper in the mail confirming their suspicions. Thanks standardized test companies, and inane
You can keep your stupid merit pay. Just leave my students alone.