Maine Says No Merits to Merit Pay

Al Diamon has been convinced for years that the State House in Augusta is full of loonies. I’m young. The idealistic hope that our government can actually do something productive hasn’t been beaten out of me. Granted, my civic ideals are hanging by a thin thread, but my soul isn’t totally black like that of the cynical Diamon.

Then I read this.

from Morning Sentinel

A teacher pay debate is taking shape in Maine’s Legislature, and President Barack Obama has already taken a side.

Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn, has filed legislation that would outlaw tying teachers’ pay to student performance on test scores and other “measurable” factors. And Sen. Carol Weston, a Montville Republican, is pushing a proposal to encourage performance-based pay for teachers.

It’s impossible to judge teachers’ job performance accurately and determine their salaries fairly based on student test scores and student evaluations of their instructors, Bolduc said.

“It’s the criteria we use to determine who is performing well and who’s not performing well,” said Bolduc, who is certified as a high school social studies teacher. “If it’s not done right, it won’t be done fairly.”

Sorry Bolduc, but you’re wrong. A teacher’s job is to teach students. The outcome of that teaching should be students who can read, write, and do mathematics and understand these things, not just recite information. If we cannot judge if a teacher is doing a good job by how well their students are performing then what? Administrator evaluations? Those come once a year and they often are no surprise.

I’m not saying that student assessments should be the only part of assessing teacher performance, but they have to be some part. To say otherwise shows a complete lack of understanding of the educational system. How did Bolduc know if his students were succeeding or failing? Reading chicken bones? No their grades. Their scores assessed how well they were doing in his class. It is unfair to judge a student by that criteria and not the teacher. We still need to reform a great deal of how we grade students, how we assess their learning overall, and the standards we set, but to say that the system is not perfect so no way is ludicrous and lazy.

Words from Sen. Weston are not much more encouraging.

from Morning Sentinel

Weston agrees that student achievement shouldn’t factor into teacher pay. Her bill — still in its draft stages — would set up a range of pilot projects in districts interested in exploring merit pay systems.

“Right now, the best teacher and the worst teacher are all treated the same,” Weston said. “What we’re saying (in the legislation) is if you’re a really great teacher who has ideas, ambition and you want to do these extra things, then let’s compensate you.”

It is a crime that the hardest working, best performing teachers get the same salaries, etc. as the poorest. There are few professions in which workers would tolerate such a system for long. Still I have to disagree with Weston on not including student progress in merit pay. Student outcomes are the whole purpose for a teacher to even be employed. To deny that as part of a merit pay system is to deny the whole existence of our educational system.

Bolduc goes on to say in the article that teachers do have good days and bad days. Some of these they can control and some they can’t. Sure, everyone does. Teachers who have bad days, slog through them, and get the job done deserve to be recognized as an employee anywhere else would. However, when you continually have bad days and don’t seek help that’s a problem, especially when the future of our children is involved.

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