By Chester Goad
This is not a political post. It is not a cry for or against reforms, nor is it pro or anti-union. It is not a whiney rant about accountability, and I am not railing against the evils of high-stakes testing.
This is simply an observation, so stick with me for a minute.
Along with the national push for higher standards and higher expectations has come a barrage of state and federal awards, incentives, and recognition programs for school districts, individual schools, and teachers who show significant improvement and student gains. Often that improvement is tied to increases in funding. In addition, the subject of merit pay was bound to reenter the national conversation on education and school reforms. I’m all for improvement. I’m all for competition. I’m for bonuses. I like incentives. Merit pay sounds great to many hardworking teachers. There is also absolutely no doubt that school systems, individual schools, and teachers of students who show significant improvement should be rewarded and commended, period.
Incentivized accountability policies are designed for improvement, (and rightly so). Even in my state, as the kinks are ironed out, such policies are proving beneficial. After all, under-performing schools are finally seeing gains. Similarly, teachers who have long-needed support and professional development, in many cases are getting it, (though the system isn’t perfect), and they are finally seeing greater value-added results. Like it or not, many of these results are due to recent teacher evaluation accountability standards coupled with quantifiable academic achievement requirements. Improvement is a good thing! Anyone would be crazy to argue that. After all, teachers use accountability and incentives every day to get results in the classroom.
Tennessee recently unveiled a plan that will provide $7,000 “retention” bonuses for level 5 teachers who agree to serve in schools that have been identified as “priority” schools (Read more about that here). Under Tennessee’s evaluation system, a level 5 teacher is considered to be the “cream of the crop” or the “best of the best,” “exceeding expectations”. Under Tennessee’s new rigorous scoring, a level 5 teacher, has absolutely earned our respect, and no one would argue they deserve more. As a point of interest though, the new evaluation system also maintains that a level 3 teacher is a rock-solid educator “meeting expectations”.
There is nothing wrong with enticing phenomenal teachers to schools identified as “priority” schools. That’s a smart plan. It’s practical and will likely yield results in achievement. By all means, let’s help low performing schools. Full disclosure: I understand my state is currently not in the top-tier for education, but it is improving.
Still, I have to ask, where is the recognition for the steady stalwart educator, faithful and dedicated to students and to the profession year after year? Despite what we may hear, there are many schools and teachers who are already very effective. So much so that their effectiveness results in narrower achievement gaps that are naturally more challenging to overcome. Solid schools and solid teachers are not always going to see the types of gains many low-performing or priority schools might see under the new guidelines. In other words, these already effective schools are meeting expectations right now. They just don’t have nearly as much ground to make up.
Consider the high school GPA on a 4.0 scale. If a student with a 2.0 somehow improves her grade to a 3.6 over a period of time, that is quite an achievement. She should certainly be recognized for improvement. But what about the student who has consistently held a 3.5 throughout the same time period? Or maybe he improves and earns a 3.75. That is also a worthy accomplishment! The gap was narrower, but he was a consistent, steady, solid student. I realize it’s not really apples and apples, but you get the picture.
Most rock solid teachers who have been meeting expectations for years, would never expect a party, a concert, or a lavish awards dinner in their honor, but they deserve it. Which again begs the question, where are the celebrations for these already thriving schools, or for teachers who are making significant differences in the lives of students every day–not warm fuzzy differences–but dependable academic daily successes. When do we ceremoniously commend the consistent contributions of school districts, and hardworking teachers already making the grade? Where are the banners for students who despite learning differences may be persisting to their potential already and holding steady?
There has been much focus on “value-added” results over the last few years. Hopefully struggling schools will continue to show gains, and it is important we applaud them. It is however, equally important, and certainly time we celebrate the VALUE ADDED to education by teachers and schools who show consistent, steady, student success and successfully continue to do so.
Not every teacher is a rock star, but there is much to be said about a teacher who is a steady rock. Those teachers add more value to their respective schools, than most will ever appreciate.
*Dedicated to: Ms. Jann Lewis, 5th grade, Mr. Don Goforth high school drama, and Ms. Mary Ann Brewster, high school English. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
(Dr. Chester Goad is founder of The Edventurist blog, an adult living with ADD, a university administrator, writer, speaker, and disability advocate, who is committed to making life better and more fun for people with attention deficit and dyslexia. He is a licensed teacher, and former school principal. He also likes pistachios. These opinions are his own, and he has a lot of them.)