Letters to the Editor

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TEACHERS: Why they’re undervalued

Letter by Eric M. Hansen, Gig Harbor on Jan. 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm with 15 Comments »
January 19, 2011 10:39 am

I disagree with your reader who believes it is incumbent on the public to treat teachers as if they have worth.

First, teachers must treat themselves as if they have worth. As long as they choose to be compensated like piece workers (a negotiated schedule in a labor contract), they’ll be treated like piece workers. If they choose to be held accountable, they’ll be treated like professionals.

Currently, a teacher’s pay is completely independent of their performance. It’s found on the pages of a labor contract. Great teacher, lousy teacher. Mathematics or arts and crafts. Seattle or Twisp. Doesn’t matter.

Imagine what would happen if teachers agreed to be held accountable. If they could accept more pay to work in less desirable locations. If teachers of mathematics or other subjects where a shortage exists could accept more compensation. If we could give great teachers a raise and let the lousy ones go.

Who’s to judge performance in the class room you ask? Anyone who’s been to a PTA meeting knows the answer: parents. We don’t need to make thinks complicated. Collectively, parents can judge a teacher’s performance to three significant digits.

If teachers want to be treated like professionals, they need to stop acting like piece workers and agree to be held accountable. They can’t have it both ways.

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  1. Eric you need to be more realistic. I have been to PTA meetings. A school with more than 200 students and you have less than 15 families represented. These are the people that decide on a teachers worth. Doctors set there own charges, they also can refuse treatment to someone if they think it will be sucessful. Will we allow teachers to rfefuse entry into their classroom if they feel someone will disrupt it? As for multi level pay we just told teachers not to expect the promised bonus for getting extra education.

  2. Fibonacci says:

    Eric
    It all seems so simple to anyone that has not done the job. Teachers (public) don’t have the option of how they get paid Eric. Should they all just refuse the current pay system and quit? As for Doctors and other “professionals” maybe the patients could decide the doctors pay. Yes,I know you have a choice of Doctors and don’t always with teachers, but all parents know is which teachers their kids like, not necessarliy which ones are good.

    I do agree that teachers of positions that have a scarcity of qualified people should command more money, and one pay tier for Seattle and Twisp does not make sense. But how do you compare a teacher of Calculus and a teacher of remedial juinior math students as to which is “doing a better job”?

  3. I think most teachers would be willing to be held accountable if there were ways to build in all the independent variables in teaching a class of students and exclude the extraneous ones to show what influence the teacher actually had.

    It is one thing to look at a large number of students represented by a whole school or a school district and discern trends. It is another to determine what contributed to the success or lack thereof for a small class of students. Human beings learn in leaps during some developmental stages, and progress little, and can even regress in others, independent of any direct influence of a teacher. These developmental stages are not always age-specific, so you have students learning at totally different rates.

    Parents are often the biggest factor in motivation, elimination of psychological stress, resources for learning and other factors. How can we factor that into the equation so that a teacher does not get rewarded or punished for something they have no control over?

    Class achievement and popularity are the two biggest factors used today in systems that have this approach. In every study I have seen, these two issues, while important at some level in learning, are almost always independent of a teacher’s actual worth to the district. Some of the most popular have low achievement and some of the highest achieving classes do not rate their teachers a their most popular.

    I have a teachers certificate from Texas, not used much, but I was on several committees looking at this subject as a parent representative and also as an appointee by the governor. The influences a student receives during the learning process are so vast that it is almost impossible with our current knowledge to factor them in at the teacher level.

  4. CeeCeeDD says:

    Eric,
    What happens when parents pressure their child’s teacher to give the child higher grades than the child deserves? If parents determined teachers’ salaries, there would be a great deal of pressure on teachers to please parents with grades, curriculum, assessments, and other matters. That kind of patronage is one reason why teachers’ unions were started; it was to protect against unfairness, favoritism, and undue pressure.

    Many parents have no real knowledge about curriculum, classroom discipline, or testing. Parents may think that Mr. X is a wonderful teacher; but, his methods aren’t increasing student learning like Mr. Y, who is less gregarious but more effective. Of course, Mr. X has been teaching longer and doesn’t have any behavior kids in his room. Mr. Y is not that lucky, but as a parent, do you know that?

    Teachers are the backbone of a democracy. They are educating children so that the children can be active, critically-thinking participants in our country’s future. Teachers are trained to be accountable; teaching is a heavy responsibility.

    The legislature and school boards determine curriculum and require specific assessments; school boards hire principals to supervise and observe teachers. Parents *are* public stakeholders, and teachers are accountable to the public. However, parents do not have enough knowledge, nor should they have excessive power over teachers’ pay.

  5. bobcat1a says:

    It sure is wonderful to see the input of some reason into this subject. At least the posters here are acquainted with reality, unlike the letter writer.

  6. Once again, education is preyed upon by the ignorant. What does determine a student’s success in the learning? Research shows that 15-20% of learning success depends upon the school. Another 15-20% depends on the classroom and 60-70% depends ON THE LEARNER. Teachers can not make anyone learn. To think otherwise just highlights your abject ignorance on the concept of learning.
    Children who come to school hungry can not learn.
    Children who come to school exhausted can not learn.
    Children who come to school sick can not learn.
    Children who have little parental support do not reach their learning potential.
    Children who live in daily violence can not learn.
    So, Eric, tell me which of the above do teachers exercise control?

  7. taxedenoughintacoma says:

    Pass out the crying towels to the teachers. Teachers in private and charter schools are measured on their performance. If they don’t cut it they are out. Why are public teachers afraid of real competition.

    Watch, “Waiting for Superman” if the teachers union ever allows it to be distributed widely. They are very afraid of this movie. It exposes the teacher union for what they are. A self serving tool that doesn’t care about our kids.

  8. taxedenoughintacoma, I have seen the movie at a special screening for a committee of which I had been a member in Texas looking at charter schools. It is an inspirational film, full of hope.

    There are a few things the film does not tell you. In the US as a whole, where charter schools are funded at the same level as public schools, public schools win out in terms of achievement. The only variable that can be shown to be directly correlative to improvement in achievement at a high level of confidence is the amount of funding and cost per pupil in a school. Put more resources in and the achievement level goes up.

    The school and project in Harlem that the film uses as a model costs over three times the amount of funding per student than the state provides and is one of the highest cost per student school in the USA. In addition to the direct school funding, the project provides special support in housing, family counseling, tutoring, supplemental nutrition for the entire family at home and at school, day care for other family members so parents can be involved, and a host of other resources not available to regular private or charter schools. The success stems from looking at the issue of education as an entire community issue, with resources to match the needs of the students’ entire support system.

    To me, this supports what educators have been saying, including the teachers unions. If we value our children’s education, we must put our money where our sentiments lie and expand what we mean by support for education to encompass the entirety of a child’s life in the community.

  9. And, I forgot to mention, participants in this project (students and their families) also get free medical and dental care. This includes regular preventive care. I am surprised that someone with your handle would support this very liberal and progressive approach to education. Or were you fooled by the term “charter school” without looking into what was actually going on?

  10. For a comparison, the State of Washington provides basic education support at $6,740 per student. This is the latest figures on the OSPI web site, and it dates to the last biennium. Local school districts provide, on the average, another $1500 or so and with federal funds and grants, it averages $9,418 per student.

    New York state provides the school in Harlem (like all schools) its basic support amount of $19,500. In addition the state has given a grant of about $3,500 per student for this project for a total of $23,000. This amount is matched by a foundation, bringing the basic support to $46,000 per student. That is just the basic, in school direct educational support, not all the extra support services I mentioned.

  11. dankuykendall says:

    So more money will make it all better, teachers happy, parents happy and children will perform better? Not going to happen until everyone of those are held toes to the fire. Money is not the answer, each player in this being held accountable is the answer.

  12. It doesn’t take a whole lot of skill or training to get pregnant. Being a parent isn’t really an impressive qualifier for evaluating teacher effectiveness.

    And, while being a PTA member does tend to self-select one as being one of the few parents who actually wants to be involved, it – again – doesn’t speak to one’s qualifications, rather, it speaks to interest.

  13. dankuykendall, if your statement is in reaction to my posts, then you might have misunderstood. Studies have shown the only relationship in direct correlation to improved performance is cost per student funding. That doesn’t mean it is direct cause and effect, but that there is a significant relationship. In the charter schools that have been successful in bettering public schools, (11% of the total), staff qualifications are much higher and teacher pay is much better than private schools. However, teacher pay by itself has not been shown to be a significant factor in the studies, but teacher pay in relationship to the local cost of living has been shown to be a factor, although not at the higest levels of significance.

    The majority of the successful charter schools employees are union members, so that takes away the argument that poor performance is somehow the fault of unions. In fact there was no significant relationship one way or the other on student achievement between union and non-union, so it really isn’t a factor one way or the other.

  14. Chicken or egg here……..perhaps if teachers were treated like professionals in the first place, like they are in other countries where education is clearly more highly valued and they consistently get better results than the US, there wouldn’t be a perceived need for a union negotiated contract.

  15. caseinlet says:

    I wrote this letter and here is my attempt to respond to each of who I consider thoughtful participants.

    Oldman4 — the way to achieve multilevel compensation is at the bargaining table.

    Fibonacci (.618?) — Teachers do have the option “of how they get paid.” Again, it happens at the bargaining table. The State/public would have no problem accepting pay differentiation based on a number of variables. How about the WEA? And I believe you’re wrong about parents. I moved around the NW and my children participated in 4 different public school districts. Without exception, when we asked for input, parents always knew who were the excellent, good, average, poor and lousy teachers. Always and without a shadow of a doubt. Thanks for your support on the scarcity and location issues. Remember, it happens at the bargaining table.

    Tuddo — thank you for your thoughtful input. I agree — it’s not realistic to think we can build a “measurement model” that correctly reflects all learning related variables. Here’s where I disagree — we don’t need to. I’m not proposing we measure teachers based on student achievement. I’m proposing we measure teachers based on parental input. The parents know! In Mercer Is., parents recognize great teachers and lousy teachers. In downtown Tacoma, parents recognize great teachers and lousy teachers. A great teacher in downtown Tacoma, regardless of student achievement (and all the associated variables), should receive the same compensation (perhaps adjusted for location!) as a great teacher in Mercer Is.

    CeeCeeDD – While I disagree (again, there is no doubt in my mind parents know good teachers from bad), I respect your logic. If you believe all teachers who meet state qualification requirements are generally qualified to teach and need to be “protected,” the industrial labor model works. Just don’t whine about teacher worth (the subject of my original letter). It’s defined right there in the labor contract (compensation and benefits provisions).

    Sue1234 – I respectfully disagree and believe teachers do make a difference. But again, I respect your logic. If teachers don’t make a difference, then being paid like piece workers is appropriate.

    BeerBoy – It’s not getting pregnant that qualifies parents to judge teacher quality, it’s the collective knowledge accumulated over many years of hundreds or thousands of involved parents.

    Taxedenoughintacoma and dankuykendall (related to David or Bob?) – thanks for the support!

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