Here's how Denley starts his article:
Have you ever heard anything crazier than this? A guy called Kevin Falcon, who is running for the B.C. Liberal leadership, has suggested that people who are really good at their jobs should get paid more than those who are just average.To someone unfamiliar with the education sector, and likely more familiar with business, Denley probably hits a home run. I mean, why wouldn't someone who is better at their job get paid more? This logic seems so innocuous that to disagree with it would be prima facie evidence that you wish to reward mediocrity, protect lazy-ass teachers, or you are a latent Lenin-loving Communist who should rot-in-hell.
Needless to say, this bold assertion has caused outrage, but only because the people Falcon is talking about are teachers. The head of the teachers' federation in B.C. is appalled and the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation is on the same page.
Falcon has attacked one of the most cherished myths of the education industry, the contention that all teachers are equal and should be paid accordingly. If teachers are all equally skilled at their jobs, then our schools would be the first workplace to demonstrate this surprising development.
But why take my word for it when you can get it straight from Denley:
The union opposition to a scheme that would actually pay some teachers more is superficially puzzling, but the real fear is a merit system would replace the lax, experience-driven pay-increase system that we have now. Don't be fooled into thinking that the teachers' opposition to merit pay is driven by some kind of altruistic approach that values accomplishment over money.I wish it were as simple as Denley makes it sound: pay good teachers more - pay bad teachers less. Problem solved. And if you disagree, you're a heretic.
Just one problem.
How do Denley and other market-based "reformers" plan on filtering the good teachers from the bad?
Despite Denley's cavalier tone, even he doesn't ever really say how this will be accomplished. Other than, near the end of his diatribe, he seems to place great faith in the all-mighty standardized test.
His assumptions are ripped straight from the market-based education reform play-book, which might read something like this:
Test scores are accepted on faith as a proxy for quality, which means we can evaluate teachers on the basis of how much value they've added -- "value" meaning nothing more than higher scores. That, in turn, paves the way for manipulation by rewards and punishments: Dangle more money in front of the good teachers (with some kind of pay-for-performance scheme) and shame or fire the bad ones. Kids, too, can be paid for jumping through hoops.So do standardized tests assess what matters most about teaching and learning? If not, then the entire premise behind merit pay is built on, at best, superficial foundation. Many experts on the subject of standardized testing will put it this way "test results primarily tell us two things: the socioeconomic status of the students being tested and the amount of time devoted to preparing students for a particular test."
But even if you do find standardized tests credible, intelligent educators and business-people alike should realize that it is unwise to place so much importance on a single indicator or measurement. Rick Ayer's writes:
But our education MBA's have taken the lazy route. They should be broadening assessments to understand what students know and are able to do -- looking at qualitative evaluations, performance and portfolio and project based assessments, and learning in multiple modes that include creative and arts fields. Instead, they have narrowed the assessment -- really to only one measure, the standardized test. And that way lies disaster. Because, as anyone in business can tell you, a single metric bends all the efforts to polishing up that one measure, to the detriment of other important factors and even to the derailing of the whole enterprise.If you need more on this, I suggest you acquaint yourself with Campbell's Law:
Campbell's law stipulates that "the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it was intended to monitor. Campbell warned us of the inevitable problems associated with undue weight and emphasis on a single indicator for monitoring complex social phenomena. In effect, he warned us about the high-stakes testing program that is part and parcel of No Child Left Behind.Error rates in measuring teacher and school performance based on student test score gains has led experts to caution against reliance on test scores in teacher evaluations.
Even in his article, Randall Denley admits there is no consensus around merit pay, nor is there research to support the implementation of merit pay based on a value added model, but it would appear he doesn't really care:
Newspaper editorialists have agreed with merit pay in theory, but not in practice because there is no proof that it will produce miraculous improvements in learning. Probably not, but it makes more sense than paying people more money every year for a decade simply because they continue to show up for work.
The point of merit-based pay would be to reward those who have done an exceptional job. Giving merit pay to weak teachers won't make them better, but then they wouldn't be getting it, would they?
The really big argument against merit pay for teachers is that the system is so great now we shouldn't consider changing it.Denley's argument here is essentially this: "I don't know if merit pay works, but it has to be better than what we do now." He's prepared to throw caution to the wind because merit pay would appear to be a courageous challenge to the failed status quo.
Yet he couldn't be more wrong.
Look, I'm all for changing school. In fact, I find myself agreeing with those who suggest we need a learning revolution, but not like this. There is a big difference between focusing reform on real learning and teaching rather than on data and accountability. Philip Weinberg, a high school principal in New York put it this way:
Our attention needs to be on improving schools rather than on improving systems. Ask us to answer the tough questions: “How we can teach better and what we should teach?” Our concentration on statistical outcomes has caused us to be less effective educators than we might have been. It distracts us from the truly important questions of what, and how, young people learn.
Help us unlearn shorthand such as, “That school’s an A” or, “New York City’s test scores rose by X percent” because such language obscures the real question of whether or not kids are learning well. Instead, try to engender an honest dialogue about the best ways to get kids to think for themselves and the best ways to help young people develop the skills and the habits of mind necessary to become good citizens.
Please ensure that the public discourse is not about demonizing teachers or their union. A leader can effect change without manufacturing an enemy.However, demonizing teachers is exactly the premise behind merit pay. The whole idea that teachers and students are simply not "motivated" enough to perform is as arrogant as it is ignorant. Kohn explains:
The premise of merit pay, and indeed of all rewards, is that people could be doing a better job but for some reason have decided to wait until it's bribed out of them. This is as insulting as it is inaccurate. Dangling a reward in front of teachers or principals—"Here's what you'll get if things somehow improve"— does nothing to address the complex, systemic factors that are actually responsible for educational deficiencies. Pay-for-performance is an outgrowth of behaviorism, which is focused on individual organisms, not systems—and, true to its name, looks only at behaviors, not at reasons and motives and the people who have them.
Even if they wouldn't mind larger paychecks, teachers are typically not all that money-driven. They keep telling us in surveys that the magical moment when a student suddenly understands is more important to them than another few bucks. And, as noted above, they're becoming disenchanted these days less because of salary issues than because they don't enjoy being controlled by accountability systems. Equally controlling pay-for-performance plans are based more on neoclassical economic dogma than on an understanding of how things look from a teacher's perspective.Randall Denley concludes his article this way:
Fundamental questions need to be asked about how we run our schools, but the vehement reaction to Falcon's modest proposal from teachers, unions and the public shows that we aren't ready for change.You're right, we do need to ask fundamental questions about how schools are run, and you're article might have been a good place to start. It's too bad you are so distracted by "reforms" like merit pay and standardized testing which "really [are] just an intensification of the same tactics that have been squeezing the life out of our classrooms for a good quarter-century now."