Educational funding is a sore spot in thousands of communities across America. With no universally accepted model, states drum up funds that seem to guarantee little other than meeting minimum standards. Frustrated by scant resources, teachers make do. With household budgets stretched to their limits, parents are asked to approve tax levies that frequently fail. Educators adapt as students and teachers suffer. The quality of eduction in America is a casualty of a failing process that ultimately victimizes those it intends to serve: America’s students.
When education fails, legislators and taxpayers claim teachers are overpaid. Under-performing teachers should be paid accordingly or thinned from the herd. They reason that paying teachers less magically produces more educational funds. When objectively applied, “Pay for Performance” can work fine for industry but education is different. In an editorial published in today’s Columbus Dispatch, a friend and former educator, Kim Cellar, explains why. I hope you find it as enlightening as I do.
The Dispatch staff editorial of Dec. 24, suggesting teacher pay being tied to performance, exacerbates what is wrong with our schools and fails to demonstrate what is best about America’s schools. For hundreds of years American schools have maintained preeminence and have been, continually, sought by people from all over the world because of their abilities to promote academic freedoms, enrich social freedoms, and instill personal liberties.
These “best” ingredients of American schools encourage students to become independent learners. There is a freedom to respectfully challenge accepted norms and discuss new ideas within the classroom. There is a freedom, as well as opportunities, to gain understandings and friendships across a variety of cultures. There is the liberty to pursue individual passion despite social class or family expectations. And there is (or used to be) the freedom to explore and experiment with a variety of academic, career, and artistic scholarship.
What is best about American schools remains unmeasurable – but witnessed in our country’s ability to be innovative. I remember reading the words of a Japanese businessman who expressed this the best. He said his countrymen could match the industrial capacity and the labor efficiency of our country. But it would never match our technological innovation and entrepreneurial leadership. In other words U.S.A. just knows how to create what is “cool” as well as marketable. Unfortunately, the “opportunity” of academic freedom has been under political attack as the means by which to measure students, teachers, and, ultimately, voters. In the process, failing teachers will be scrutinized, failing students will drop out, and failing schools (voters) have been preselected.
This is what is worst about American schools; it is a prime victim to political agendas. This forces our children to be mere pawns in a system that manipulates social change through legislation or judicial rulings. In the first half of my teaching career, children were pawns to a judicial ruling of desegregation and forced busing. Schools, and the variety of cultures they represented, were ripped apart in an attempt to rectify a social injustice. The second half of my career witnessed a legislative movement of “deregulation”. Politically correct terms of accountability, choice schools, charter schools, and performance based instruction, among others, underlies the real political agenda of union busting, for-profit schools, and greater profits for testing companies and textbook publishers.
Children became the pawns to “high stakes” testing and limited academic freedoms. Educational expenses grew reciprocally. Teachers evolved into the overpaid under-performers, and taxpayers repeatedly bailed out Ohio’s unconstitutionally funded schools. Graduation rates rose because children were convinced, at an early age, they were failures and dropped out of the testing system, teachers accepted pay cuts and acquiesced to academically myopic curriculum, and parents returned to the polls year after year to bail out the ever-changing, unfunded minimum state education requirements.
The Dispatch editorial chooses to ignore the reality that one of three teachers does not have a test for their instructional area. Gym teachers, music teachers, art teachers, counselors, health teachers, foreign language teachers, vocational teachers, librarians, and English as a second language teachers would be paid in what way in a performance pay system? A teacher with four special needs children in her class, compared to the teacher next door with half that number, is measured for performance in what way? One year when I had a new seventh grader who spoke no english and had never set foot inside of a school in his life, was I responsible for his near zero testing score? Two children scoring nearly perfectly on standardized testing averaged with one near zero scores averages to 66%. Does that number represent the learning and performance in my classroom? Apply these testing standards to other professions and ask is the doctor accountable for my health? Is the dentist responsible for my getting cavities? Or is the lawyer liable for a criminal’s choice in a life of crime?
These absurdities demonstrate our current political system of “accountability”. When I was in school, I enjoyed a system of “opportunity” I was no better than my best friend because I took more college preparatory classes while he chose more art classes. My college job in the construction trades allowed me to work with many fine tradesmen, many of whom are now successful businessmen with their own companies and employees. Their high school opportunities of choice were classes in OWE or DCT. If one is unfamiliar with these fine programs it is because they fell victim to the “accountability” politics. I grew up enjoying a system that allowed my classmates the opportunity to explore our interests. Today, the regimented curriculum is solely oriented towards academic performance for college entrance exams. In the process, many of the related arts are experiencing deep cutbacks, and once again, the non academically inclined are the pawns who realize the system is not for them and drop out. With one in eight Americans graduating college, education for the other seven needs to be restored. “Opportunity” education needs to be our priority. I agree with the O.S.U professor whose recent Dispatch editorial stated that only 10% of jobs need a college degree, 20% of jobs need an associate degree, and 40% of jobs need a high school diploma. Education for what is best for ALL Americans needs to be less politicized.