BY ZACHARY PERROTTA
Without engineers, our infrastructure would fall apart, just as without teachers, our society would fall apart. So many elucidate that teachers have the most important occupation in the world, yet so few understand what makes a teacher effective at that job. Could it be measured through their student’s success at a test? To be blunt, no. However, this is precisely how the system judges a teacher’s effectiveness. Instead of listening to those who tell us that our infrastructure is in shatters, we experience catastrophe and then feign surprise. The listening must end, and it’s now time to step up to the plate, act, and instruct the U.S. education system through basic argumentation.
First and foremost, understand the claim that is at the epicenter of the education system’s flawed philosophy. The school system, the majority of which practices teacher pay-by-performance, fundamentally believes that teacher pay-by-performance is beneficial because superior student performance is directly and inherently causative of teacher performance, and that this system encourages teachers to instruct more effectively. However, both of these poorly contrived warrants are illicit because one: some students are receptive to few if any teaching methods, and two, this policy only encourages teachers to teach to the test, rather than instruct on all of the necessary course material. In fact, this policy harms the average student and teacher to an enormous degree.
To refrain from straw manning the advocacies arguments, you can hear it from the advocates.
“I believe that every student can [learn],” junior Moira Kelly said. “Some students have a harder time, but just because they have difficulty doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”
Unfortunately, while this eternal optimism is deserving of praise, it is because some teachers are experiencing an overload of non-receptive students that this policy is illicit.
“There sometimes comes [the] point where [teachers] start to think we are pushing an immovable object. If your [child] isn’t making the progress that [they] could [be, they may be… well], lazy,” an anonymous teacher wrote for the Guardian.
While the tone drips with a sort of blunt sarcasm, it is, unfortunately, rooted in reality. The RAND Corporation did a study on programs such as this nationwide and found that all programs, on balance, did not produce their intended effects, specifically showing that it didn’t improve student achievement at any grade level. While the study provides no direct causational link, it is easy to presume that the satirical statement contains the logical assumption.
Further, it is false to assume that these programs encourage teachers to improve their performance. The RAND Corporation again asserts that while the bonus was desirable for instructors, the program did not change most of their teaching practices. For those who changed, it was not for the better, and that’s because of the well-known phenomenon called teaching to the test.
“Teachers aren’t making enough of a salary,” junior Dashiel Heidt said. “Unfortunately, this leads some teachers only to espouse material which is necessary for their ultimate test.” The obvious issue with this phenomenon is that the test itself is often flawed.
These tests which are used to analyze proficiency within children are standardized. Children are not standardized. Obviously. This concept is so simplistic, yet we cannot say enough that children cannot be measured like cookies being put through a cookie cutter because their intellects come in all shapes and sizes.
Also, there are far too many of these tests, so many so that they inhibit the ability of kids to learn. Once some kids get back from Christmas break, they only have about nine weeks until testing begins. What they do is, often, completely drop their curriculum, drop their texts, and instead study exclusively from a standardized-test prep book, especially in elementary and middle school where children’s minds develop. Kids aren’t getting an education, but are instead preparing for a very narrowly drawn standardized test in basic language arts, math, and other subjects. The effect of overtesting upon this is only to exacerbate the harm by cramming multiple assessments into a short window, which only further stresses students and encourages teachers to only care for the results of a test which, ultimately, will play no useful role in the student’s education.
None of this is to say that paying teachers based on their performance is erroneous. To the contrary, if the means of evaluating performance improved than the entire system would do so as well. A flower doesn’t grow the more you analyze it, it’s the nutrients which seep through its roots that enable it to blossom. The education system is currently measuring the flower, while it should serve as the source which facilitates the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student. Our infrastructure is crumbling, don’t let our children crumble with it, promoting reform instead is the only viable option.
Featured image courtesy of the National Center on Education and the Economy