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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 24, 2009 at 2:38 PM

Performance pay for teachers

How do you measure “merit”?

Thanks to Danny Westneat for pointing out the inherent injustice of basing teacher pay on “merit” when neither Wall Street nor virtually any other system does [“Is Wall Street best model for fixing our schools?” Local News, March 22).

But the real issue is that there is no fair, workable method for measuring teacher “merit.” Using test scores sounds good politically, but isn’t a valid way to measure a teacher’s effectiveness, just as it wouldn’t be a valid way to measure the effectiveness of a police officer, firefighter, doctor, etc.

Crime rates are always going to be lowest in affluent suburbs. Should we pay a suburban officer whose most dangerous duty is shooing away skateboarders more than we should pay an inner-city cop who endures nightly gang wars, domestic violence and being shot at? Why not? The inner city has higher crime rates and the suburbs lower rates.

Should we pay firefighters in a small town whose occupation consists primarily of Ping-Pong and cat rescue more than inner-city firefighters who daily must attempt to patch up victims of car accidents, shootings, drug overdoses, etc.? Why not? There are fewer emergency calls in the small town.

Some of the hardest-working, smartest and most-dedicated teachers in the country work in inner-city schools with test scores lower than affluent suburbs. I’m not a teacher, but I have worked along side some of the best teachers in the country as a speech-language pathologist in Seattle Public Schools for 14 years.

The teachers in many districts with lower test scores work with children who speak English as a second language and whose parents also don’t speak English, so they’re not able to help with homework.

Many more students in inner cities receive free or reduced lunch (a fairly accurate indicator of a student’s financial circumstances) and live in families in which both parents must work long hours at varying times. Some of these students may not have an acceptable place to sleep, let alone study.

Not only will those students have lower initial tests scores than their affluent peers, but their rate of learning and of increasing their test scores will be lower due to these factors.

Paying many teachers less because their students have lower test scores is like paying some firefighters and police officers less because they respond to more frequent and more potentially dangerous incidents.

— Kurt Herzog, Edmonds

Consider the impact of test scores

Isabel D’Ambrosia’s letter about the virtues of merit pay [“A basic way to reward success,” Northwest Voices, March 24] fails to consider the impact test scores have had on the average child’s school experience.

Would D’Ambrosia want her child in a classroom and school whose central goal is to have her child score higher on a state test? That emphasis discourages innovation, personalization, an exposure to and experience of all the arts.

Some argue that what we now call education is more an inculcation, and that a true education can only be had in a private school with no ties to state assessments.

— Joel Gillman, Bellingham

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