Sunday, March 15, 2009

School Days and Teacher Pay

Before i get started, let me say that I have been working in the K-12 education realm for about 12 years. Of course, like most folks, I have been in education in the broader sense for most of my life. That does not make me any kind of expert, and I am not even going to pretend to be one.

If you've read even just a couple of my posts, you know that some of my ideas are 'kinda out there.' Well, on the topic of teacher pay and school days is not different.


Let me start with school days. I think the time has come and is long gone for the 'summer break.' School should go all year long. Shan read an editorial today that basically said, "even is the kids today do live on farms, they are spending their time on FaceBook and YouTube, not in the fields." Exactly. Here's the other thing: Most parents are not farmers. Summer break puts a burden on working parents trying to figure out what to do with their kids who are not in school while they work. Why not have the kids go to school all year with various breaks throughout the calendar? something else to think about: How much do kids forget over that three-month break? when they come back after the break, how much time has to be spent just getting the kids 'back up to speed?' By going all year, students would simply transition from one grade to the next.

Speaking of transitioning, I think the way we do most of our education today is way outdated. Students should be allowed to move up (or remain in place) based on their ability to demonstrate mastery of the skills required for the next 'level' of education. Call it grade-level, call it mastery-level, but whatever you call it, when a student is ready, why do we make that student remain in his/her grade-level based on the calendar? is that how things work in most jobs? I don't believe so. If an employee demonstrates the mastery of his/her task level, his/her supervisor can recommend that they move on to the next task level. This might be a minor step (pay for new skill sets) or a major move (say to a leader/manager position). Students should be afforded the same benefits.

Now, I realize there is a maturity level that must be taken into account for this type of situation. And, I believe that should be part of the mastery evaluation. A 'maturity mastery' if you will.


Now, to really get your mind churning, try this on for size: Students should not be sitting at desks or tables unless the tasks require it. Instead, the students should be allowed to stand at 'podiums' or taller tables. They should be allowed to sit/lay on mats on the floor. They should be assigned projects to complete and then work in groups to complete those tasks. Ideally, students would have access to various technologies - computers, Internet sources, etc. Students would help each other learn the concepts while the teacher serves as the project manager/task-keeper and guidance specialist. That is, to keep the kids on task and offer assistance as needed. Now, of course how much the teacher is required to offer input depends on the ages and skill levels of the students. In today's terms, we'd say it depends on the grade level.

what about teacher pay? For me, that's easy. Teachers give a test to the students at the beginning of the 'school year.' At the end of the school year, teachers give the SAME TEST, or a test that addresses the same skills, and then teacher pay is based on the results of those tests. As student mastery goes up, so does the pay. If it goes down or stays flat, so does the salary. Oh, I know what you're thinking: teachers will just 'teach-to-the-test' to insure success. If done correctly, that would be perfectly fine. You see, if the students gain the skills to score well on those tests, then they will have mastered the skills needed to move forward.

In Arkansas, we have things like benchmark tests, end-of-course tests, etc. In my vision, students would get those tests in August or September and then again late in the year. It makes no sense for teachers to be evaluated based on one test each year. I know this is the bane of No Child Left Behind. Schools are assessed for every fourth-grader that comes through. Here's the problem, and it seems pretty obvious to me which explains why the government hasn't figured it out yet: students change from year to year. This year, a teacher might have a more successful group of students than the next year, and the teacher has NO CONTROL over it. Think I'm crazy? Think about your own family! No two kids are the same. even identical twins might score differently. So, take two completely unrelated groups of students and then base a teacher's success by testing each group and comparing each group to the other group. Isn't like apples-to-oranges? Or even Granny Smiths to Red Delicious?

I believe in teacher merit pay, but the playing field must be level in order to play.

So, there you have it. My whacked-out ideas on education reform.

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