Saddle up the reform ponies, reader. We’re headed to Tennessee—home to the Smokey Mountains, Dollywood, Graceland and a boldly innovative new way of paying teachers. If this bold new approach works, and studies already show that it has, Tennessee’s bold new approach will likely be coming to a state near you.
The Cumberland Gap
The first innovation contained in Tennessee’s innovative approach to paying teachers is that teachers are paid very little from the very beginning of their careers through the long fallow period known as the Cumberland Gap-widening years. You see, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, better known as TNeduCommish, understands that unlike the majority of professions, experience adds no value added. In fact, as a study by the National Council for Teacher Quality will demonstrate any minute, teacher quality actually deteriorates as experience amasses. Which is why the NCTQ will call for an even more innovative approach to compensating teachers: paying them less each year.
Experience ≠ Excellence
Happily, we can use TNeduCommish’s own story to document what we don’t need fancy “studies” and “research” to tell us: excellence is an excellent attribute to have. Earlier this year, TNeduCommish dropped by a high school English AP class to subject himself to the state’s increasingly rigorous and vigorous evaluation machine.
Huffman decided to subject himself to the same classroom
observation and post-conference session with school leaders that ultimately counts for half of a teacher’s evaluation.
How did he do? Reader: he *crushed* it. TNeduCommish scored “a four or five,” or at the top of the profession. And here’s the most excellent part. Not only had TNeduCommish not been in a classroom for 18 years, his own experience Teaching for America occurred in a first grade bilingual class. That’s how excellent he is. (Note: italics added for emphasis).
TNeduCommish’s bold new plan doesn’t just exclude experience in favor of excellence, it also eliminates rewards for teachers who get advanced degrees. Once again, the inspiring story of TNeduCommish is all of the evidence we need for why this proposal is so urgently needed. Did he have to go an get an advanced degree, say a completely useless PhD in English, in order to shower the students in Lara Charbonnet’s AP English Lit class with excellence? I don’t think so! You don’t matriculate your way to excellence, reader. It pulses in your blood like a life force. Which is why you will rarely if ever hear TNeduCommish refer to the importance of higher education.
The best and most excellent part of Tennessee’s new teacher rewards system is that it is alive with merit. Study after study has shown that using merit pay in an effort to raise standardized test scores is an expensive flop—which just goes to show the fierce urgency of meritizing Tennesee’s public schools. And great news, reader. As this excellent teacher and recipient of a merit bonus check signed by TNeduCommish himself can attest, the merit plan has a lot of merit:
“I think it’s a great plan,” said fourth-grade teacher Chris Freeman. “I think it rewards teachers for doing a superb job. It’s tailor-made for me. I’m in charge of my own destiny. I control my own children and my own scores.”
Meet Mr. Merit
For the ultimate proof of the merit system’s inherent merit, we need look no further than TNeduCommish. While his predecessor earned $180,000 to serve in Tennessee’s top education job, the governor gave TNeduCommish a cool $20K raise, making him the highest paid and most meritorious official in the state. Reader: America is a meritocracy, which means that we pay people according to the salary that we believe they merit. And while teachers in Tennessee do not merit very much, the gentleman who oversees them merits a great deal. Also, as Governor Haslam no doubt understands, dismantling an education system is nowhere near as easy as just running one.
— Chiefs4Change (@Chiefs4Change)June 21, 2013
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