An Education Plan with Merit

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial staff would like to see more teachers like William Farnsworth teaching in Wisconsin. The opinion article mentions William Farnsworth, the only Wisconsin teacher out of 90 who received a 2006 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. I mention him only to say I'd rather see him teaching at a university, so he would be Professor Farnsworth.

-The Republican-led state Assembly has proposed a $250,000 annual fund from general tax dollars for teacher merit pay. The proposal is part of the Assembly's version of the state budget. The Democratic-run Senate should accept this modest yet important expense as leaders from both houses start to negotiate a final state spending plan this week.-
The WSJ thinks that rewarding good teachers with merit pay will improve state public education. I agree, mostly.

I disagree with most Republican efforts to apply capitalistic ideas to public education. Public education is by it's very nature a socialistic endeavor. It is the idea that every child deserves access to a good education, regardless of what his/her parents can afford. The idea that every child starts out with the same opportunity to succeed based on their abilities and their determination. And Capitalism does not fulfill this. Parents' choice of school is largely dictated by location, not quality. It would be more cost-effective to just not teach kids who are poor, or stupid, or with disabilities. Giving out school vouchers will simply increase the cost of private schools, which will remain out of reach to the poor. And President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative makes no sense at all. Yes, the passing schools get rewarded by getting full funding. But I have never understood how cutting funding to failing schools will help them improve. I understand that you don't want to reward anyone for failing, but I don't see how punishing the schools that need help can in any way help the students there.

Unfortunately, Socialism has it's own problems. Mostly that everyone gets paid the same and so there is no reason to overachieve.

The proposed plan for merit based pay is a good one (at least to start with) for two reasons.
1. It rewards good teachers. Who can argue with that? I know that simply paying teachers more does not make them better teachers. The best teachers teach because they enjoy it or they think the work is important. But, a higher salary will attract more potential teachers who would be good but choose to go into more lucrative fields.
2. The additional funding comes from the State. School districts should not take a financial hit because they have good teachers.

But I would go further. The State should provide all funding for every WI public school. As long as schools are funded by local property tax, funding, and therefore quality of education, will remain tied to the affluence of a school district. And that just does not mesh with the Socialistic ideals of public schooling. Every school should receive the same per student funding, which the districts can budget out however they like. Teacher's salaries should be paid from a separate fund to allow for merit based increases.

And the proposed budget does not identify what criteria would be used for the teacher's bonuses. I assume they would be tied to students' scores on standardized tests. And teachers whose students score high are doing their job well. But teachers whose students score average, but but had failed the year before, are also doing their job well. I have always considered improvement to be more important than achievement. I would like to see yearly bonuses based on improvement over the previous year, and then incremental raises every few years based on average scores over a teacher's career. That way, there is an incentive for teachers to go to failing schools, where there is more potential for higher bonuses. Also, teachers would be rewarded more for maintaining high scores than for maintaining average scores, instead of the current system, which gives all teachers the same raises, regardless of performance. Those teachers who maintain failing scores would likely just get fired.

Yes, I know, merit based salaries sounds like capitalism. I assure, you, as long as it's all paid for by the State, and everyone has equal access to it, it is still a Socialist program.

While the Assembly's proposal is not quite as good as the one I have outlined here, I do think it is an improvement on what we currently have. And I like to see improvement. So I will join the WSJ in encouraging the State Senate to support this plan. Of course, even with my suggestions, our students will never compete internationally until we overhaul our education standards. Start with increasing the amount of reading and reading comprehension in all subjects, as Althouse has suggested. Emphasize mathematical logic over rote memorization. Emphasize the scientific method. And Do Not Politicize Science. But that's another topic. Let's just get this first attempt at merit pay passed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good idea, but what teaching the exact same cirriculum in every school in Wisconsin (along with your proposed ideas)? I'm currently transferring out the school whose district I live in, to another with a better cirriculum (and higher property taxes). If every school in Wisconsin had the same cirriculum, and funding per student, I wouldn't be in the position I am in right now. Good ideas, Dorshorst.

5/8/07 09:09  
Blogger Dorshorst said...

Creating a standard test to evaluate students would strongly teachers to teach what the students would be tested on. I don't think we should mandate how individual teachers choose to teach the material, though. They need the freedom to try new approaches or teaching cant improve beyond where it is.

6/8/07 15:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me rephrase that...there should be a "core cirriculum," meaning that every student should be taught the same material (such as; multiplication in 3rd grade, the Bill of Rights in 11th grade, and so on). I agree, teachers should have the freedom to try new approaches.

10/8/07 15:16  
Blogger Dorshorst said...

Yes. Not disagreeing wi6h you, anonymous, whoever you are (and I do know who you are, A.M.) The first step, which I glossed over, would be to decide exactly what all students should learn, then writing a test to evaluate that, then publishing the expected core curriculum that would cover what the test would test for (that in itself would be a lengthy discussion). The teachers who do not teach what is expected will have students who fail and will get fired.

The ultimate goal is to create a standard of what students should learn and provides an incentive to teachers that do effect9vely teach it. Perhaps some sort of NCLB program is necessary to ensure school districots hire the best teachers. Or some sort of program that rewards students for their achievement (like Bloomberg has implemented in NYC). My proposal is not perfect. But it does attempt to force schols to provide an equal, quality education to every student.

13/8/07 01:08  
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3/10/10 01:09  

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