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Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009 | Riding the school bus for an hour and a half everyday gave me a lot of time to think about the topic of paying public school teachers for their performance. Now that Barack Obama is president of the United States, the idea of merit pay may become a reality in education.
“I think there should be ways for us to work with the NEA, with the teachers’ union, to figure out a way to measure success,” Obama told a crowd of 9,000 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. “I want to work with teachers. I’m not going to do it without you. I’m going to do it with you.”(1)
President Obama said there needs to be a way to figure out how to measure success. I ride the bus because the school in my neighborhood is full of gangs and drugs and my parents think that there are better teachers at my high school.
Since I am in 11th grade, I have had a lot of good teachers and bad teachers. In my school, students talk about teachers and who is a good teacher and who is not a good teacher. Believe me, teaching for a long time does not mean that a teacher is good. It just means the teacher has been a teacher for a long time. The same names come up for bad teachers and good teachers every year no matter which students are talking about them.
When the school district had to lay off teachers it didn’t matter if a teacher was not a good teacher. It only mattered if the teacher had been a teacher for a long time. That teacher was not going to lose his or her job. Thinking about that made me decide that merit pay is a good idea. In other jobs, more pay and promotions go to the workers that do the best job. If a worker does not do a good job then it’s, “You’re fired.” I have never seen a teacher fired. Students are just stuck with a terrible teacher.
Public school teachers should be paid based on their performance. Good teachers are the key to teaching students. Since about 30 percent of San Diego Unified’s students are dropping out, then something new needs to be tried. That is what the Chicago City Schools Chief Executive Arne Duncan decided. “Duncan’s willing to try new things and see if they work, hopefully keep the ones that do and drop the ones that don’t. I expect the experimentation to continue on a national scale,” is what Elliot Weinbaum, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania said. (2)
The people who keep students in school are teachers, even if the students have problems at home. I know I try harder when a teacher is polite and respectful. When I feel like a teacher really cares if I am learning I don’t want to disappoint that teacher.
Teachers who really want students to succeed should be rewarded. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, the teachers decided to try the bonus pay idea and it worked. “Student achievement has risen even more sharply at other schools participating in the program, officials said.” (3) President Obama has chosen Arne Duncan to be the new secretary of education.
A fair way to judge a teacher is to have independent people come to the classroom and watch the teacher in the classroom. It should not be announced because when people know someone is coming to the classroom they change and teach better. But hardly ever does anyone come to the classroom and watch teachers.
Another idea is for students to fill out a report card about the teacher. The report card should include what assignments were good, what assignments were a waste of time, is the teacher respectful to students, does a student feel he can speak in a class or does the student feel scared, did the student get feedback from the teacher that helped and does the student want to come to class everyday. Good teachers will not mind having people come to the classroom because they are doing a good job. Teachers who just think teaching is a job will not stay when students and adults are grading them. Bad teachers don’t like people watching them. Good teachers will stay no matter what because they believe in us.
In conclusion, the evidence from across the United States shows that merit pay is improving achievement. When the dropout rate is 30 percent it is time to try out this idea.
Guadalupe Sandoval is a junior at Serra High School. Her essay reached the finals of the 2009 voiceofsandiego.org Essay Contest. The other finalists’ pieces will run this week with the winner’s appearing Friday, Feb. 20.
(1)Thomas Fitzgerald, Obama Tells Teachers He Supports Merit Pay, (July 5, 2007)
(2) Maria Glod, “Chicago School Reform Could Be a U.S. Model,” The Washington Post, 30 December 2008, sec. A, p. A-1
(3)Sam Dillon, Long Reviled, Merit Pay Gains Among Teachers, (December 7, 2008).