Column #8, posted 10/8/99
I am almost embarrassed to write this column. What I am about to say seems to me to be frighteningly obvious. I am sure my readers will say, "well, yea, anyone would know that." But, sadly, the powers that be donÂ¹t seem to know it, so I thought I'd better write about it just in case some of the people who are about to sow the seeds for the destruction of meaningful education in this country might happen to read it. What is the subject matter, you ask? Paying teachers for performance.
I realize that most of the politicians who run schools, and the corporate leaders who think they are helping, haven't a clue what education is. Yes, it seems to make sense to pay for performance. And if test scores are what you want, then paying for teachers to produce high tests scores may actually work. But this is a dangerously simple-minded proposition. I feel the need to respond in kind to it with some simple minded problems.
What if a student has a question about something that is not on the test? What if the class is excited about a project or an idea that will never be on any test? Suppose the students are upset about something, Littleton for example, or Kosovo, or health care in America? Suppose a student has a personal problem and needs someone to talk to. Suppose there is a subject worth teaching for which there is no test.
In each of these cases, the right answer for the teacher being encouraged by politicians and corporation executives to raise test scores is, "sorry, we canÂ¹t deal with that now, because it is not on the test."
Paying for performance assumes that performance is measurable. Maybe it is, but not by student test scores. In schools where teachers are pressured to make test scores higher (which is most of them these days) increasing numbers of teachers report that they are extremely stressed about all the wrong things. These same politicians want better teachers at the same time they are driving away the best teachers by making them into automatons that drill students for tests.
I feel the need to point out, as always, that these tests test only conscious knowledge, that non-conscious doing knowledge is the basis of real learning and that the curriculum needs to change into one that addresses the practical exigencies of living in today's world. We need to abandon archaic subjects that exist in the curriculum solely because they were always there. We need to find ways to make high school into something other than pre-college. But, I have said all this before.
Stop this madness before it is too late. Education must be about expanding
the mind, and expanding oneÂ¹s abilities at real world tasks. Teaching
must involve encouraging such expansion. That is all there is to it. Anything
else is a waste of time.