Paying teachers

by Rob Horning

22 March 2006


In Florida, teachers are about to have their pay depend on how well their students perform on standardized tests. This Washington Post article has details. If I were a Florida schoolteacher, I’d be moving to Georgia or, better yet, Arizona or Nevada right about now. They have schoolteacher shortages, and they don’t treat teachers like drill-press operators.

I’m not sure, but this might be the stupidest idea ever. Teachers will have a pretty strong incentive to help their students cheat and to encourage poor students to drop out rather than learn (just as performance-rated managers can fire slacker employees). Curriculum will be changed even more to reflect the standardized test, while any other learning will be disregarded. And kids will know they have a powerful weapon against their teachers. Schools where disadvantaged kids have to go will become even worse places to teach, and will have an even harder time recruiting qualified and committed teachers. Imagine if we didn’t pay oncologists who couldn’t keep their patients from dying. That would be great for cancer patients everywhere, right?

One of the reasons I got out of academia was fears of this kind of insanity. That one’s future on a university faculty depended in any way on student evaluations—usually filled out in haste only by those with a vendetta and often filled with personal insults (“Hey fatty, nice shoes.” “My instructor should pay more attention to her appearance.”) seemed like lunacy. Yes, it is understandable to want to see accountability in education, but in the end, regrettably, you can’t really hold a teacher responsible for a student’s learning, because learning can’t be forced. It seems likely that any extra efforts this Florida program encourages teachers to put in to motivate students will alienate just as many kids as it inspires.

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