As a 21-year-old teacher, I don't understand how you can fairly assess gains on test scores without creating an atmosphere where teachers will be "teaching to the test" in order to achieve these gains ["D.C. Schools Chief Michelle Rhee Fights Union Over Teacher Pay," usnews.com]. I teach in the Advanced Academics program and my students already achieve in the 98th percentile. My "General Ed" colleagues have students who have serious learning disabilities and don't qualify for services because there's not a big enough gap between IQ and potential. However, those students are still required to take standardized state tests. If former President Bush was known for "Weapons of Mass Destruction," Obama will be known for "Weapons of Mass Instruction." Merit pay may increase test scores, but I highly doubt that it will increase critical thinking skills in our students.
Comment by Meredith Fisher of VA
The whole situation of teacher tenure is actually tied to the economy. For many years, districts like Washington, D.C., were so desperate for teachers that they hired almost anyone "with a pulse" and then did anything to retain them. The word "evaluation" was rarely mentioned. Tenure was offered in part to compensate for inadequate salaries. If the recession continues, Ms. Rhee will probably be successful. If the expected teacher shortage materializes, it's back to combing the nation for bodies to fill D.C. classrooms. If our nation wants highly qualified teachers at all times, we'll have to pay for them.
Comment by Linda of CA
Michelle Rhee is the only hope this country has. All these people who are talking about the difficulty of evaluating students' performance are doing a disservice to this country. Too bad it is not just the teachers who are unqualified; the parents are responsible too, and the list goes on and on. It is all a part of the decline this country is experiencing. Like England in the 20th century: No one would recognize its decline, and everyone was still talking about its past glory despite the fact that the influence of that country was waning. What Michelle Rhee is doing is a big surprise, really dramatic, to us but not to Asian [countries], who have been used to having accountability in classroom. What is the fuss about fairness in evaluation? Like anything else, there is no absolute fairness, but we are much better with a system of unfair evaluation of teachers' performance than without. Let's stop the slide of this country before it is too late. By the way, I am a tenured teacher myself. I will give up my tenure any minute for a system that rewards achievement and discourages meritocracy.
Comment by John of IN
I've been interested in Rhee's experiment in D.C. ever since I first read about it a year ago. It's encouraging to see someone making at least some headway with what has always been a problem in K-12: the rewards structure. Many school districts have tried to improve the quality of education without doing the clearly American thing: pouring money on the problem. Rhee's experiment could have been handicapped from the start were it not for features of the experiment that make the union less attractive to all but the fearful and/or slackers. Putting the carrot of comparatively big money before teachers with the either-or factor built in—either go for the money or go for the security—is a good idea. I'll be interested in seeing how it works out in the long haul. Arne Duncan, the new secretary of education, looks so far to be on the ball as much as Rhee. Two sometimes knotty problems otherwise cannot be overlooked, of course: getting parents involved in the education of their children, and developing sound techniques and measures for evaluating the achievement of students. Is there light at the end of the tunnel at last? Let's hope so!
Comment by Ron W. Smith of UT