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Published in Knoxville News Sentinel

To the editor

It is a very good tactic to reference Chicago on the teacher merit pay issue. You can put a 'search' into the archives at Substance News. And subscribe!

NOTE: Buzz Thomas is co-chairman of The Public School Forum of East Tennessee. His opinion piece was headlined Citizen's Voice.

Buzz Thomas, Great Schools Partnership president, supports TAP - the Teacher Advancement Program - a project of the Milken Family Foundation, and a variation of an old concept called "merit pay," of which the GSP is a local sponsor.

Thomas says TAP works, but he apparently missed the front-page story in the June 9, 2010, issue of Education Week which reported that Chicago public schools using the TAP program showed no gains in student achievement. The report states: "The findings are notable not just for being at odds with other studies of the Teacher Advancement Program model, but also for the Chicago experiment's unique background: During his tenure as chief executive officer of the district, Arne Duncan - now the U.S. secretary of education - oversaw the development of the initiative."

Despite TAP's failure in Chicago, Duncan dispensed $437 million to support this performance-based compensation model, of which Knox County Schools received $26 million. Thomas' Great Schools Partnership is raising matching funds for this program.

American education historian Diane Ravitch wrote: "Merit pay has been tried and found ineffective again and again since the 1920s, but repeated failure never discourages its advocates, who are certain that if the incentives were larger, or if some other element was adjusted, it would surely work. We hear that about every failed experiment. If only we had done it differentl." Merit pay programs like TAP encourage more emphasis on test scores and more punishment for teachers and schools if the scores do not increase. There is more concentration on rudimentary skills because they count on standardized tests, and more indifference to the arts, history, science and foreign languages, because they are "irrelevant" subjects. Competitive pay systems like TAP create an environment which promotes cheating and "gaming" the system. TAP is a recipe for failure, not success.

Edward T. Sullivan

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