Merit Pay

Political Point of View by Collier Democrats

by Theron Trimble
Chair, Issues Committee - Democratic Executive Committee of Collier County

The recent controversy and legislation regarding merit pay for teachers leads one to consider the application of the same rules for doctors – possibly not a good comparison because doctors have some control over what patients they accept, while teachers have little or no choice regarding the students who are assigned to them. With that in mind, consider the following:
Both doctors and teachers provide opportunities, doctors provide ways for patients to get well, when possible and teachers provide ways for students to learn. Neither can force the patients/students to take advantage of the opportunities – that is left up to them, sometimes mitigated by social factors. In the case of doctors, patients may not keep needed follow-up appointments, fill prescriptions for necessary medications or take the medications as needed. In some cases patients fail to tell doctors of factors which affect their health, such as drug or alcohol use. In other cases life style changes, such as diet and activity may be required to facilitate healing but the patient may not follow the doctor’s directions. When the patients fail to get well, obviously the doctor is at fault, because he/she is the responsible provider. Even though the doctor provided a correct diagnosis and treatment plan, if the patient fails to get well, the doctor is not deserving of merit pay.
In the case of teachers, the best prepared and informative lesson accomplishes little if the student is absent or does not speak the language in which the lesson is delivered. Even during the best lesson the students present may not benefit if their purpose in being in class is not to learn but rather to socialize, ensure that the parents receive their welfare checks, receive the free meals provided at breakfast and lunch, or to be eligible for the sports program. Most good classroom lessons require prior preparation on the part of the student and follow-up practice and reinforcement. If the students do not prepare as assigned, or follow-up, as assigned, the lesson provided by the teacher fails to have the intended learning impact. When parents allow or keep students out of school with regularity or fail to insure that appropriate out-of-school assignments are completed, many of the learning opportunities are wasted.
The best teachers, with mastery of subject matter and teaching techniques, with individual student contact from one to five hours a day, cannot overcome the factors that affect student learning outside the classroom during the other 24 hours. When these factors negatively affect student test results, it is not the student, parent, or society which is held accountable, it is the teacher, who loses merit pay and possibly their job. Whatever happened to the old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”. The same is true of educating a child, yet the legislature and Governor want to place all responsibility on the teacher, who has 1 to 5 hours per 24 hour day, 180 days (assuming pep rallies, assemblies, and other interruptions don’t interfere) out of 365 days a year in which to impact the learning process..
Neither good doctors nor good teachers oppose accountability, but that accountability must be shared among all those responsible for the results. Quality is correctly diagnosing and prescribing appropriate treatment by doctors and providing knowledgeable and interesting lessons in the classroom with appropriate preparatory and follow-up assignments by teachers. This is where their accountability ends. As they say – you can lead a patient/student to water, but you can’t make them drink.

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