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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

August 30, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Education: merit pay, teachers’ strikes, raises and alternative schools

Individual attention important to future success

Editor, The Times:

I am a 2003 graduate of the Washington state public school system now working in Portland. I’ve remained friends with several fantastic, supportive and inspiring teachers from my past, including several that are now working in the Kent School District.

As my K-12 school memories fade further into nostalgia and my agenda focuses more and more on my future theoretical children, the issues that the Kent teachers are fighting to amend [“Kent teachers vote to strike as talks go on,” page one, Aug. 27] have a new sense of importance and urgency. We can’t afford to let our kids suffer in large, anonymous classrooms and become nothing but a number in a district database. Not in a recession, not in a rebound, not ever.

Teachers and education are institutions that stay with us past high school, past college, into our daily lives to create successful and contributing adults. With attention and guidance from a young age, they teach us how to behave well and listen to others in classrooms and future board meetings. They teach us to respect each other and stop gossiping on the playground and around the coffee pot. They help us find how we learn and work best, so we can get our homework and our business proposals done.

Lessons like these, begun in the home and nurtured in the classroom, are much too important to compromise. It is with all this in mind, and at stake, that I put all my support behind the Kent teacher’s strike.

— Tabitha Blankenbiller, Wilsonville, Ore.

Teachers’ raise a little relief in tough times

Let me get this straight. Many teachers have lost their jobs this fall due the financial meltdown of the marketplace. Those teachers who still have a job are facing higher classroom sizes due to the loss of their colleagues.

They will be working longer hours each day to keep up with their added responsibilities. The Legislature gave them a 0.6 percent pay cut by reducing the number of days they work by one day this year. And teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses for family medical premiums will increase by around $100 per month more than the hundreds of dollars they already pay. And your Aug. 24 editorial [“Merit pay for teachers would end fight on pay,” Opinion] complains because Seattle teachers got a 1 percent pay raise this year.

Don’t you realize this 1 percent raise won’t even cover the loss of state pay and the rise in monthly medical premiums? It’s not like teachers’ lives are getting any easier. If fact, this year will be extremely difficult for most workers in our state.

If you need to complain about pay raises or bonuses this year, then you should spend your time complaining about the outrageous raises and bonuses financial people on Wall Street and executives in board rooms are making this year. They are getting pay raises while teachers are taking an overall pay cut.

Stop blaming the average worker for trying to maintain their working wages in this economy, and demand financial institutions stop giving outrageous salaries to the very people who tanked our economy in the first place.

— Peter G. Mohn, Bothell

Merit pay not a quick fix at all for improved education

The depth and breadth of the editorial board’s ignorance of our educational system and of teachers’ concerns and motivations took my breath away when I read the editorial on merit pay for teachers that appeared in The Times Aug. 24. In good conscience, I cannot let such a blatantly misleading portrayal of the situation stand unopposed by the facts.

The author states that, “Teachers are professionals who deserve strong compensation,” immediately after an unveiled dig at the teachers’ union for negotiating a 1 percent raise for its members “despite a recession meting out few raises anywhere.”

Does the author support strong compensation for teachers or not? The snide remarks about teacher strikes being illegal further undermined my belief in the board’s genuine support for teachers. By the way, if you were paying attention, you know that teachers in Bellevue felt compelled to strike because of detrimental teaching practices that had been foisted on them. Salary concerns were a secondary issue.

Merit pay is offensive to many teachers who, like me, bridle at the assumption that I would work harder to do a good job of educating my students if you paid me more. I wouldn’t.

I work as hard as I can right now because I am a dedicated professional, and I have a very challenging job. Public education functions fundamentally differently from private industry, in which incentives like pay raises for increased productivity make sense.

People want educational reform because they want improved teaching and learning. Hallelujah! That takes a concerted effort over the long term with a significant investment of energy, research and resources.

If you’d like to know how it can be done, read the thoughtful article published in The Times about Finland. The Finns did it. It just took a commitment and plenty of money, a lot more than a futile quick fix like merit pay.

— Marianne Clarke, Seattle

A stark picture made worse by merit pay in rough schools

It sounds so logical to tie student achievement to teacher’s employment and or pay.

Teacher merit pay, based on a child’s progress from A to Z, is inherently flawed and demeaning to teachers. You need only to teach or sub — not just visit — in the Seattle School District’s “extremes” to be startled at the push for performance pay.

In the so-called failing schools, a teacher using all effort and resources may move a student only one bump on a progress chart. This hardly measurable step represents the best and deserves recognition.

In these poor achieving schools:

Income issues dominate family life, and one parent, grandparent or foster family are all too often the home life of many students. Parent involvement is minimal and adults at home are frequently victims of school failure while serious language and cultural issues run deep.

Class sizes can’t be reduced but school aids are. Volunteers are few and far between. Discipline is complicated and daily disruptions rob children of learning.

Contrast this picture with “high performing” schools, which operate under the other side of all the negatives.

Contrary to the unchallenged mantra, we don’t need to find and place the best teachers in our “failing” schools — they are already there. We only need to honestly support them.

— Michael McCullough, Seattle

In alternative schools, creativity thrives

Kudos to Lynne Varner for describing alternative public schools in Seattle as “models of creativity” [“State needs to hone its game in fight for education dollars,” Opinion, column, Aug. 26]. Thanks also to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who also recognized that our programs can hold their own against the ever-popular charters: “The secretary was clear, that’s what they’re looking for — nontraditional schools that allow students to excel,” Gregoire told The Los Angeles Times. “I would like to show him some of our alternative schools and get his feedback.”

As a parent of two children in public alternative programs, I have been disappointed that local leadership has been unable to recognize what alternative schools offer. The nonsupport we have become accustomed to over the last several administrations has turned into action that directly harms our programs under Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, including school closures, forced relocations and the loss of autonomy so central to the charter model.

We hope the district’s alternative-school audit, scheduled for September, will highlight the innovation that has been happening in our district for decades. Otherwise, alternatives will be out, and we will be stuck with charters, which were recently shown in a national study to offer little improvement over traditional public schools.

— Chris Stewart, Seattle

Comments | More in Economy, Education, Education reform, Families, Labor, Recession, Seattle, Teachers

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