Should teachers be judged on merit?

6 Oct

There is a big debate in the United States about whether we should begin judging teachers by merit instead of tenure. Many of the unions feel they have worked hard to secure positions for teachers based on experience and time in the classroom. They feel there is a certain degree of job security that may not be there on a merit system.
Advocates for the merit system argue that it would improve education by holding teachers accountable for student performance. Most of us agree there are a number of factors that go into student performance. However, the single most important determining factor of student success is the teacher’s ability to inspire them to learn.
Some would argue the tenure system has created lazy teachers, which has trickled down to lazy students. There have been countless stories in the media of teachers who just put in a video and sit back to collect a pay check. Most of us find this image insulting, but sadly we have all worked with people who have exhibited this behavior.
Good teachers seem to be up for the challenge, but we worry about how a merit system would be implemented. Private for-profit colleges have used this system for years to evaluate their teachers. They use “retention” as their method of measure. Retention is crucial to the for-profit school. As the economy changes, the non-profit state schools are facing the same concerns. This may be why they are looking at the merit system.
Even the elementary and high schools get government funds based on student attendance. Uninspired students are not going to show up. Inspired, challenged students with a supportive faculty and staff are going to come more often and see greater success. It is a no brainer for measuring that has been in place for years.
You cannot measure teachers based on student test score. They will just start teaching the test. We already have this problem to some degree. Students are often taught the test, instead of being taught to think. We need to inspire students to think.
We need to look at how the for-profit schools are rating teachers on merit. It is typically based on categories that are heavily weighted in the retention area, but also look at student evaluations, scores, and classroom observation by a supervisor. Teachers are also required to complete a certain amount of continuing education each year. In some instances, they must also publish or show work in the field they teach.
Unions can still protect teachers’ jobs by providing input on the categories used in the merit system. They can help provide the continuing education. They can be a part of the evaluation process. They can help inspire teachers to continue to grow.
How can we inspire other people to learn, if we are unwilling to learn a new way?

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