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Lawmakers, Stop Punishing Teachers with Failed Policies

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President Obama and the GOP have rejected the wisdom of our teachers. We depend on our education, yet we have mortgaged our futures. The world has not stood still while we flailed in our attempt to reform education. China has become the world's largest English speaking country; they know what we must learn. Together, we will take charge of our destiny for our national prosperity.

Americans know of the problems in our education system and are rightfully concerned. Politicians appeal to voters by proposing “merit” reward systems that prove to be ineffective, wasteful, and destructive. Defenders of these competitions point to standard business models. The development of the human mind is not the same as manufacturing a Ford. Nearly all innovative and outstanding educators are firmly against it. The disastrous bureaucracy introduced by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have prompted states to rush legislation for non-recurring federal grants. The federal government is dangling carrots in front of states to hurriedly change their education strategies to systems that clearly don't work. We cannot afford to saddle our schools with unmanageable bureaucracy that fails to educate our students.

In Indiana, the Department of Education selected the Growth Model from Colorado to compare the performance of schools in the state. It will use this model for teacher performance appraisals. The model is based on flawed standardized tests, fails to consider factors beyond teacher control, doesn't cover all subjects and grades, and doesn't measure real life skills. Some students purposefully do poorly on the tests because they do not like their teachers. Our struggling school system allows chronically failing students to advance through the grades. The best teachers educate students on things that will never be found on standardized tests. The skills actually measured on these tests are the same skills that are easiest to automate and outsource. But, neither Governor Daniels nor Superintendent Bennett is willing to wait for a measurement model that works. Their enthusiasm to pass this legislation will result in a negative effect on our struggling system. It's not just a matter of popularity with teachers. This is an unfair system and it will anger teachers. We're more likely to lose the good teachers than the poor teachers who don't have other options.

Most Americans believe that teachers compensation based on student test results will lead to better education, but a student's development is not the sole responsibility of the teacher nor can it be accurately measured on standardized tests. There are too many influences on a child's education to control the outcome. Merit bonuses for teachers simply do not raise student test scores. We have to recognize the critical partnership between school systems, teachers, parents, and students. A love and focus on education must be rooted in the home. Inaccurate merit scoring systems compound problems by unfairly shifting the consequences to the teacher. This competition forces teachers to choose between cooperation and compensation, creating a disadvantage for sharing the good ideas that work.

Standardized test results are useful for discovering where problems exist in our educational community, but they do not identify the source of the problem. They must not be used for punitive actions to teachers or schools, as Hillary Clinton has supported. To truly have an impact on our education, we must rethink the logic. It is those struggling schools that need the best teachers and we must create the incentives to go there. We must shift our focus from our success to where we struggle.

A recent study compared the success of our state educational system against that of other nations. Our best performing state, Massachusetts, came in at 17. Massachusetts took the lead in the U.S. only after a decade of tough decisions. Massachusetts makes it harder to become a teacher and requires students to pass a test before graduating from high school. To maintain quality, teachers must re-qualify in their content area every several years. The state limits examination attempts regardless of tenure or seniority. The state organizes finances to tutor kids in places where the most help is needed.

We've ignored teachers for too long. Educational degrees are too expensive and salaries are too low. There is little incentive to become a teacher and the economics promote desertion. The “reward” structure does not change classroom performance. The results of programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top is that teachers feel threatened and intimidated. To attract better educators we must raise salaries and pay more for teaching in struggling schools. The economic fact is that a more valuable market results in better education. Still, financial incentives are not enough, teachers need us to enable them to reshape the system. They need smaller classes, technology-infusion, on the job and peer training, growth potential, and decision making influence, including how their work is judged.

Obama's “single most-important thing we've done”, Race to the Top, has been rejected by teachers unions, civil rights organization, and community groups. Teachers have voiced their opposition, but the message from you is strongest. Florida narrowly dodged a bullet when Governor Crist vetoed a merit bill in response to public outrage. But after a little repackaging, the same dangerous legislation is up for consideration again. Many states are in the path of this danger. Now, you have the data. When gas is $3/gallon, our economy is being bled. Our education system is too fragile and undervalued to tolerate a premature merit-based pay system. We will not tolerate politicians short-changing our schools. We must rebuild our education system by providing our teachers with the resources they need to have be successful and have rewarding careers. Standardized tests do not make good teachers.

Together, we can fight bad politics with knowledge. Thank you for keeping America free!

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