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[Susan notes: I worked in the 'real world' for three different corporate giants and can testify that Thomas Jones' contention is false. The very idea that hard work and innovation are rewarded is a bad joke. Ask Dilbert.

And Teach for America finds space to once again toot its own horn.

Oh well, one letter got it right: Merit pay is linked to a false premise.]

Published in USA Today

To the editor

The socialistic system of teacher pay is unfair, and it leads to too many teachers just phoning it in far too often ("Big gain on teachers' pay," Our view, Improving schools debate, Thursday).

I think one of the reasons that so few teachers agitate for a change in the pay system is that their experience working in the real world is limited. Competition is good! Some also use the profession as a refuge from the dynamics of the marketplace with tenure, it is extremely difficult to be terminated.

Merit pay must be based on many factors, including test scores. When I worked in the real world, I generally knew that the harder I worked and the more innovative I was, the more rewards I'd receive and that even occurred when the boss and I didn't see eye to eye. USA TODAY's contention that the socialistic pay system doesn't pass the common-sense test is on target.

I hope voters will get past the union rhetoric about uplifting education, etc., and see that unions exist only to protect the teachers and their interests. That is why they are the warriors that endorse the status quo. As a teacher, I am so frustrated with the status quo that I flirt with leaving and going back to industry, where my talents would be more appreciated, at least financially.

Thomas Jones, Palmdale, Calif.

Educators know best

What a waste of money for taxpayers in Denver, where voters have approved an extra $25 million in property taxes for merit pay. Merit pay for teachers is based on the absurd, unproven notion that bad teaching is the problem with our public schools. Common sense says that until this nation is willing to address the real and well-documented social and economic problems facing our families, our children and our schools, we will continue to struggle.

Let's put our tax dollars to work expanding ideas and programs that have been shown to improve student achievement such as early childhood education, smaller class sizes, parent education, student nutrition, after-school programs, quality facilities, adequate supplies and continuing teacher education.

Teachers and teachers' unions are not the enemy. They know what works in the classroom and what they need in order to do their best job. Non-educators who propose and promote simplistic solutions to complex problems are hindering real progress in our schools.

How about this "common sense" idea? Let's ask the professionals how to improve our schools, those who have thousands of hours of experience and education in their field let's ask the teachers, and listen.

Lynn Chaldu, Ketchum, Idaho

High standards can be met

Opposing view writer Joseph C'de Baca is right to say teachers deserve better support and pay, given the importance and difficulty of their jobs. He is off the mark, however, when he suggests that because "teachers cannot pick and choose their students," it is unfair to judge them on their students' classroom performance ("Merit pay will fail").

It is true that the challenges many students bring to school can make a teacher's job even more difficult, but it is simply wrong to say these challenges preclude teachers from ensuring that students meet high academic standards.

Teach For America recently surveyed more than 2,000 of its teachers in low-income schools. They overwhelmingly pointed to in-school factors those thing educators have control over as having the greatest influence on student achievement. In particular, they placed significant emphasis on the role of students' expectations as a powerful tool in engendering or limiting achievement.

This finding is backed up by both research and experience. Take, for example, YES College Prep a public charter school in Houston serving low-income Latino students. Nearly all of the students come from families where no one has attended college, but almost 100% pass state-mandated tests in every subject and grade level and every senior has been accepted to a four-year college. The teachers and, in turn, the students at YES expect success and work hard to achieve it, despite the myriad obstacles these students face in their lives outside of school.

Teachers do indeed deserve more precisely because of their significant ability to impact student achievement.

Abigail Smith, vice president
Research & Public Policy
Teach For America, Washington

Socioeconomic factors

Only teachers seem to understand why merit pay always fails. Joseph C'de Baca perfectly explained all the "controllable variables" that make teaching school different from assembly line production.

When I was a teacher, I commonly had students from two college-educated parents, making $200,000 a year, and students living in poverty, being raised by their grandmother, in the same class. Paying me more money would not improve the latter students' performance levels.

Student achievement is not linked to merit pay; it is linked to those socioeconomic factors over which there is no control. That is why merit pay will always fail; it is linked to a false premise.

Samuel D. Bird III, Colebrook, N.H.

multiple authors

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