An After-Thought on My Teacher Pay Article On Huffington Post - The Jose Vilson

An After-Thought on My Teacher Pay Article On Huffington Post

by Jose Vilson on January 9, 2011

in Jose

Rich Uncle Pennybags

First, I’d like to say that writing for Huffington Post has been a mixed bag of treats. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed writing unique, policy-driven perspectives there alongside the likes of Mike Klonsky, Kenneth Bernstein, and Diane Ravitch. For the most part, the comments have leaned towards rational and focused on the topic at hand rather than the trolling murkiness of other online news hubs. Then, I get comments from people who get on the comment box just to contradict for the sake of contradiction, a complete waste of time. I’ve seen a couple of commenters who appear in all the essays where actual teachers write and find them conveniently making suspect statements for their own shits and giggles.

Thus, what I’m about to write will hopefully clarify some things I wrote in this article because none of this fits in that essay to begin with:

1) I don’t believe in merit pay. Yes, I hypothesized about teachers getting paid like professional athletes, who do get paid on a mix of expertise and achievement according to their positions. Yes, I did write that even before I knew AFT President Randi Weingarten said something similar in a conversation with Bill Gates. Yes, I am part of a book and a group that suggests alternative pay scales for teachers. But at this point and time, I can’t with good conscience say that the current crop of administrators, policy leaders, and political leaders have what it takes to judge teachers fairly and are willing to invest in teachers well enough to value their expertise. Plus, the more popular version of merit pay is a tenet of privatizing public education, a direct conflict with what I believe.

*** This obviously means that, in the article, I’m working under a hypothetical question posed to me, not under some presumption that I’m the expert. ***

2) We have to establish the difference between what a teacher makes and what a teacher is worth. I’ll leave it at that because, while teachers don’t instantly make money for their school systems, the amount of work put into their students and their eventual outcomes in student training turns the idea of “worth” on its head.

3) School cultures may already lend itself to differentiation of pay. Honestly, amongst teachers in an average school environment, teachers know who are the best and brightest of us, and the sorts of work they’re capable of. In other cultures, where leadership doesn’t establish a collaborative culture, where teachers seek to shoot each other down, or where the school doesn’t prepare daily for the challenges of the neighborhood they work in, peer review may not work.

4) Teachers don’t have enough advocates. A Time Magazine writer commented to Diane Ravitch recently that she tweets too much, as if her speaking publicly was a publicity stunt. Of course, I wonder if that writer thinks a movie like Waiting for Superman is more or less ambitious. Plus, no one advocates for Ravitch as an agent. It’s just her behind the tweets and the rest of us replying and sharing the message with others. If that’s the case for an acclaimed best-selling NYU professor, former member of the G.H.W. Bush administration, and resolute teacher advocate, imagine those of us who don’t have those accolades on our vitae.

We must blog. We must advocate. We must speak up and write. We’re in the business of proving people wrong. There are plenty of us who don’t service the children right, certainly, but no one asks why they’re not. If they’re not suited for the job, then they have due process, and should be processed accordingly. If they’re not getting the right support, the right teacher education, or the right system, then that’s another situation.

I like to believe that most teachers who teacher want to improve in their pedagogy and do right by the students in front of them, but enough of us feel otherwise. That’s fine. Until then, our salary will be more than just a few games in front of millions of people. It’ll be fought in a live studio audience of 30, with the whole world watching.

Jose, who has an exciting week coming up and simply won’t be deterred.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Lehmann January 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Here’s the other issue with merit pay… how do we even decide who is responsible for what? If a school embarks on a school-wide reading comprehension plan, does only the English teacher benefit? How does an art teacher get merit pay? A PE teacher?

And given that we know that, unlike a business where one could argue that everyone getting on the same page and working together would increase the size of the pile of money, there will be a very finite pot of money, how could you encourage a faculty to work together when they are now in competition for a finite amount of money.

Merit pay… good sound bite, lousy idea.

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David B. Cohen January 9, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Jose and Chris,

I agree with you about the current limitations and challenges to anything resembling “performance pay.” But… if we set aside that stupid term, and found revenues to supplement rather than redistribute base pay, made it available to all (even the art teachers!), would you be open to the idea that some teachers might earn more by doing different types of work, serving different roles in the school, etc.? It would barely resemble anything the current “ed reform” crowd is thinking of, but I think that somewhere in the future of the profession we should be looking at more ways to be a teacher and more ways to define formal roles for teachers to play in schools – with differential pay to accompany differentiated work and responsibilities. (I know, I know, that’s a lot of big “ifs”).

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Chris Lehmann January 10, 2011 at 12:13 am

Those are a lot of ifs, but they also already happen. It’s not uncommon to get extra money for coaching, for serving as chair of a committee, for being a dean, etc… that’s well within a principal’s prerogative to do, and many schools already do.

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David January 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Let’s be honest, and not call it “merit pay”. What today’s ed-deformers are talking about is “pay for test scores”. Give this a read:

http://www.edvoices.com/blog/2010/12/06/merit-pay-sanguine-sardines-and-sanctimonious-salesmen/

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Jose January 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm

David, I’ll just say that I agree with you and furthermore, I’ve written entries similar to yours about the dangerous language used out there to simultaneously inject and sanitize the vitriolic language. Merit pay without teacher voice has no merit, firstly.

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