Re "Rewards, Not Tenure," editorial, March 21: As a new teacher, I am always looking to improve my job performance by sharing ideas with other educators and doing a decent amount of self-reflection. So I cringe every time I hear the latest round of attack ads over merit pay released by the governor's office and my own union. Each side would rather destroy the other instead of promote a meaningful dialogue.
If you look at teachers' average pay scale, the raise they receive most years is a modest cost-of-living increase, something that all workers should be afforded. However, that does not mean that merit pay should be declared dead on arrival. It focuses attention on job performance, and teachers should not receive blanket immunity on this one.
The unions should allow for more stringent assessment of teacher job performance (not just based on test scores), not protect poor performers under the umbrella of tenure. Any competent teacher will have nothing to worry about. In return, the state should award bonuses to all teachers at schools where test scores improve. This would allow for continued collaboration rather than pit teacher against teacher.
Teachers do not really have tenure; they have permanent status. This means a school district must show cause before terminating employment, not an unreasonable caveat considering it is public, not private, employment. Any properly trained principal can document and build a case against an incompetent teacher.
The education code already provides for just such a procedure. Teachers must spend their own money to defend against the action. That most dismissal proceedings are unsuccessful reflects on the competency of school managers. If you want real reform in public education, start with the top.
Re "A Merit Pay Head Butt," Opinion, March 20: For merit pay for teachers to be effective and equitable, the following would be required. (1) A set of clearly defined objectives for each school and teacher, with due dates that have been negotiated and agreed to by both parties. (2) An objective measure of success. (3) A previously agreed-to reward for completing the objectives.
It is possible that none of these objectives would include performance on standardized tests since those tests only measure performance on standardized tests and not real learning. This discussion, while interesting, addresses only half of the problem.
Until students come to school ready to learn, i.e. able to follow directions, sit still in the classroom, able to understand and speak English, valuable classroom time has to be devoted to work that should have been done by the parents. Unless the parents have really done their job and taught their children to respect their teachers and that their job is to learn, more classroom time will be used up by discipline and teacher energy will be drained by discussions with parents about why their child got a D for failing to turn in homework, doing poorly on a test, etc.
Good teachers teach because they love to teach and love to see the light of learning turn on in their students' eyes. Undoubtedly, there are some marginal and poor teachers out there who should not be teaching. Merit pay would not make them better.
So merit pay is supposed to improve the quality of instruction and attract new teachers into the profession. Haven't we learned that some aspects of the business model are inadequate when the product is a human?
Is our healthcare system better in America now that we've allowed HMOs and pharmaceutical companies to quantify the "good" doctors as preferred providers? What, then, does the governor propose to pay teachers of merit so that they will overlook the crumbling facilities, overcrowded classes, mind-deadening standardized exams, scripted learning programs and psychological abuse suffered by many instructors in our grossly underfunded public school system? Arnold might tame the Legislature, but he wouldn't last two weeks in the classroom at one of our "underperforming" schools.