Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama and Education: Observations

President Obama discussed the topic of education Tuesday. There are two elements of the discussion that I want to comment upon.

First, he suggested "tightening standards for teachers." I did not find any specifics about what this means.

My view: Much of the "high standards for teachers" now, and particularly since the No Child Left Behind law (grrr...) passed several years ago, amount to collecting the right educational credentials. Most of us who are deep into education recognize that there is little correlation between the true abilities of a teacher to teach, and the size of the credential pile a teacher can (or chooses to) amass. If a way to select teachers can be found that doesn't emphasize transcripts over skills, my ears are open.

Second, Obama supports merit pay for teachers, or in the euphemistic language of the hour, "innovative compensation schemes."

My view: Merit pay is a grand idea with precious little foothold in reality (much like, for example, socialism). If the teachers' unions ever let it take hold in our public schools, I predict it will become an ugly game.

  • If merit pay is based on test scores, look for teachers to teach to the test or for administrators to fudge the scores to their advantage. Or just look for fraud.
  • If merit pay is based on other statistics, look for the statistics to be manipulated.
  • If merit pay is based on administrative evaluations, there will be problems both with teachers who try to illegitimately curry favor to get a good evaluation, and with administrators who wield these evaluations as a club to accomplish their own goals or to punish teachers with whom they clash.
  • And, heaven forbid, if merit pay is based on what the students think of their teachers, our education system is in monstrous trouble.
If a merit pay system can be constructed that can objectively measure the ability of every kind of teacher to have and impart wisdom and knowledge, to demonstrate and teach good character, and to give their best efforts to succeed and to breed success in their students, then I am for it. I just don't think I will ever see that day on this earth.

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