In today's News and Observer, puppet Rick Martinez takes on school reform. He's slingin' ideas without facts or reason.
Martinez takes issue with the increases in school funding over the last 10 years. He moans that the increased funding has not lead to increased student performance. With his signature cynicism, he hones in on teacher pay:
The only thing that has enjoyed meaningful growth during that time is teacher compensation, and a lot of good that's done us.
It hurts to hear that anyone seriously thinks we pay our teachers too much.
Martinez goes on to give his prescription for school reform. Without citing any research or facts, he throws out such brilliant free-market ideas such as making teacher pay dependent on student performance and increasing the number of charter schools. Let's put his reform plans under the microscope.
Revolutionize teacher compensation -- The governor and General Assembly must begin to treat teachers like the state employees they are, not as saints-in-training. Give teachers the same basic raise as every other state employee. That doesn't mean overall teacher pay has to be limited. Tie compensation directly to student performance and we'll all be richer when a teacher earns six figures.
Personally, I don't think teachers are saints-in-training... I think they're saints. It's the toughest job I know of that requires a college degree. A starting teacher in North Carolina makes only $28,510. Among other problems, that's nowhere near enough to entice young teachers to the rural communities that pay the state minimum, have the hardest time recruiting staff, and have some of the lowest achievement scores in the state.
The one place where I agree with Martinez is in his suggestion that we could pay more to teachers who choose to teach in underperforming schools or in understaffed subjects like math and science. But he undermines his own suggestion when he suggests that we stop paying teachers more when they've earned post-graduate degrees or achieved National Board Certification. In Martinez's wacky dream, teachers would make up for the lack of pay when we give them "six figures" for improved student performance.
Think about it - paying teachers for student performance means they'll migrate towards districts and schools where students do the best, exacerbating educational gaps. I'd argue that we already do this because the highest achieving districts tend to pay the most. Also, the state's pay for performance system (ABC's) already rewards teachers for being in high performing schools that receive annual bonuses for reching state and federal benchmarks.
There is ample evidence that teachers with National Board Certification enable improved student achievement in multiple subjects across multiple grades. The same is true for getting a graduate degree. North Carolina has made major investment in increasing teacher education and certification because of good policy advice that shows it makes a difference.
Eliminate the cap on charter schools?
Charters are shunned because they're seen as competition. They are, and that's exactly what's needed. For all the talk of educational accountability, nothing much has changed. That's because accountability without competition is meaningless.
Or, perhaps because there's no evidence that they can consistently increase student achievement or create educational innovations that are applicable on a broad basis. Although it has some faulty analysis, this NYT article examines some of the limitations of even the most successful charter schools.
What's Martinez's most ridiculous suggestion?
Eliminating the achievement gap must become the top civil rights priority for minority officials and advocacy groups -- It's not now. How else can you explain their strong support of a public school system that fails half of its children? We minorities need to stop being bought off with hollow promises of diversity and resources. We must demand reform that results in more kids of color earning a diploma, even if the proposal comes from a conservative or a Republican. Our children's future is more important than worn-out political alliances.
How offensive. The best civil rights groups are doing more to shake up public education than Martinez could ever dream of. Check out HKonJ, which is building a new political alliance that includes organizations that are both established and effective. They also recognize that education reform will only truly happen when other civil rights are addressed as well.
I still can't get over that "saints in training" slam. Martinez must not know any teachers. Maybe it's time for him to go back to school.