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Anthony Colucci: Rally to Restore Sanity in Education

I received the following post from a fellow member of the Teacher Leaders Network, who shares my frustration about the direction of education policy.

by Anthony S. Colucci.

In a shocking display of ignorance, pay for performance has become reformers' blitzkrieg. Both common sense and research are being ignored while this unsubstantiated practice is being implemented throughout the country. Those of us in the trenches every day are left guessing why pay for performance is being touted as the latest panacea. Is it a sneaky way to further cut funding for education? Is it a tactic to destroy unions? Has the media made teachers the scapegoat for perceived problems in education? Does somebody think this is going to make us work harder? To those questions I do not have the answer.


I will tell you that most educators are not buying into this system. Proponents argue that this is the case because we are trying to maintain the status quo. That simply is false. Most of us would agree with Michael Fullan when he alleged, "It is probably closer to the truth to say that the main problem in public education is not the resistance to change but the presence of too many innovations mandated or adopted uncritically and superficially on an ad hoc fragmented basis." This is a great description of pay for performance.

Each school day, we see why this system is absurd, but yet it is being implemented.
For starters, educators are driven by a passion, a higher calling...we love children and put 110% into our work every day. Paying us more or less money on the basis of a cockamamie scheme is not going to improve students' performance. Far from the reality of children in a classroom, the rallying cry of pay for performance advocates is that there are no excuses for children to not make annual learning gains. Perhaps President Eisenhower said it best when he proclaimed, "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."

Politicians and reformers have no conception of the complexities involved in our classrooms every day. They do not understand the laundry list of challenges teachers face. Reformers have never created a marvelous lesson only to have it flop because a room full of teenage girls was in cat fight over a boy. Have they ever tried to teach a math lesson while a nine-year old with an emotional behavioral disorder is screaming and wailing? They have never seen the detrimental affects physical, sexual, or verbal abuse has on a child's performance. Reformers have not witnessed a hungry child stealing food from classmates' lunches. Do they realize that students who don't know how to speak English are expected to perform on these tests?

I will agree that there is no excuse for teachers not to come to work every day with high-expectations and a can do spirit. There is no excuse why teachers cannot provide students the opportunity to learn every day. However, I will bluntly tell you there are excuses as to why students don't make annual learning games. I want you to think back to your childhood. What was your toughest year in school?

For me, that is an easy question. It was fourth grade, and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a ten-year old, I did not comprehend what that meant. I saw fear in eyes of the adults in my family and heard it in their voices. I distinctly remember my aunt telling me, "your mother may die." As my mother had surgery, lost hair due to chemo, and had little energy to interact with me, my aunt's words saturated my ten year old mind. I can remember sitting in class that year feeling exhausted all the time. Hypochondria came to preoccupy me. We read an article about the emerging AIDS crisis in our Weekly Readers, and I was overcome with a fear that I had somehow acquired the disease. In the winter, I stared at my chapped hands, another sign I was dying. I was not a happy child eager to learn that year, but my teacher was there day after day, week after week, doing her best. I doubt I would have the met state mandated gains that year. Was it my teacher's fault? Not even close. What an outrage it would have been if my standardized test scores prevented her from collecting a full salary. The next year my mother was well. Needless to say, that was a much more productive school year.

We can see that pay for performance is another waste of the education system's time, resources, and money. Teachers know that it is one more example of outsiders dictating bad policy in the name of reform. We can list many more efficient ways to improve student learning such as providing teachers appropriate professional development opportunities, increasing the scope of social services available to our students, and improving school leadership. If the concern of reformers is that ineffective teachers remain in the classroom, I would say the problem is the ability of administrators to effectively evaluate teachers. Even if tenure makes it difficult to fire a teacher, administrators should be able to weed out true incompetence in the years prior to a teacher being granted this status.

Along with thousands of other concerned educators and citizens, I believe we must take a stand against misguided reform. We must deliver a clear message to our newly elected Congress. Save Our Schools Million Teacher March (SOSMTM) is leading an effort to do just that. On July 30-July 31, 2011 in Washington D.C., they are sponsoring a national gathering of teachers, parents, students, organizations, and other concerned Americans in an effort to put an end to the national education crisis. Learn more about SOSMTM on Facebook or at their website. Spreading the word and attending this event is a means for you to do your ultimate duty as a teacher...provide students with the quality education that they deserve!

Anthony S. Colucci, a National Board Certified Teacher, coordinates and teaches the gifted-student program at four elementary schools in Central Florida. He is the author of Copilots, Duties & Pina Coladas: How to Be a Great Teacher, and has earned numerous awards for his innovative and creative lessons.

What do you think? Is incentive pay a waste of money? Do you feel moved to get involved as Mr. Colucci suggests?

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