Friday, October 1, 2010

A call for leadership

I read and I read and I read.   And then I wonder "how can something so pure as the education of our children be so political?"   Can we not stop what we're doing and finally solve some problems?

I simply find much of what I read, especially from those who oppose performance pay, alarmist.   Diane Ravitch has made a second career of ringing the anti-merit pay bell across the United States.   Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post frequently republishes Ravitch's blog as part of this gospel.

In a recent post, Ravitch goes so far as to speak for all teachers:
Although teachers need and want higher pay, they are strongly opposed to individual merit pay.
A generalization that brings me to an article I recently read in the Christian Science Monitor.  Melanie Stetson Freeman wrote a piece more than a year ago about the evolution of performance pay in Denver, CO.   I was struck by this snippet:
Back in 2004, when the Denver teachers union voted on ProComp, many teachers had a deeply ingrained opposition to "merit pay." One poll about a month before the vote showed that just 19 percent of them were in favor. The district undertook a public-relations blitz and massive information campaign, and it ended up winning the support of 59 percent of teachers.
Teachers, once they understand that they can have due process side by side with merit pay, are willing to support an opportunity to earn more money in a less traditional manner.   However it requires leadership and stake holder input.  Off hand claims made by Ravitch are harmful to the dialogue.  She continues to say of merit pay that it,
destroys the collaboration and teamwork that are essential to the culture of the school.
However, the very same study that Ravitch notes as proof pudding that merit pay won't work actually concludes those who received merit pay were more likely to collaborate:
...what can we say about the way treatment teachers responded? Treatment teachers...were more likely to report thatthey collaborated with other teachers (planning, reviewing student test results, coaching and being  coached or observed) 
And I suppose this is my biggest beef with how merit pay is treated by its opponents.  Merit pay is not perfect.  Value added modeling has limitations.  And charter schools will not fix all our educational ills.  But neither will the status quo.  We need to spend less time yelling and making sweeping generalizations and more time figuring out how school reform can go forward recognizing the strengths and weaknesses put forward by both sides of the argument.

We can't afford to continue forcing people to line up on one side of this issue or the other.   Movies like Waiting for Superman, shows like those recently seen on Oprah, and polarizing figures like Michelle Rhee only exacerbate the problem.

But reform should not be held hostage by politics.  It must move forward with all stake holders contributing to a dialogue.  The question is when will we work together to decide what real and honest educational reform will look like?   It's happening in some places.   I just wish we had leaders here in Montgomery County willing to make it happen.

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