Mike Cope's blog

Friday, January 20, 2006

The idea behind merit pay scales for teachers is that we want the very best teaching possible for our students. We've all known teachers (though, truthfully, I haven't known many) who were failing their children. However, when the pay increases are tied to students' performance on standardized tests, there is a huge problem. It encourages teachers to gravitate toward classrooms with fewer kids who are challenged--challenged socially, culturally, emotionally, and intellectually. In other words, if you can find a classroom full of kids from gated communities, your chances for increased pay skyrocket. I like what Denver is doing: tying pay scales to teachers' willingness to teach in classrooms with students who from the poorest families and those who are English-language learners. Another possibility is to base the performance NOT on standardized tests but on the attainment of goals that have been agreed upon by teachers, parents, and school district representatives. Having said that, I'm so thankful today for the (mostly) wonderful teachers my three children have had here in Abilene. It was very important to us that our kids go to school with students from other races and other economic situations. - - - - From Ben Witherington III, one of my favorite NT scholars: We are not owners of this world; we are only stewards and caretakers of it, for God's sake. The Bible does not support either a godless communistic philosophy of property and use of the world's resources, nor does it support a godless capitalistic vision of the same. The Bible suggests there is neither private nor public property, only God's property, of which we are all stewards. The whole modern theory of ownership is faulty, for we brought nothing with us into this world, and we will take none of it with us. It also follows from this theology of stewardship that since it belongs to God, we have an obligation to use and dispose of it all in a way that glorifies God and helps humankind. The theory of charity too often has as its essential premise "what's mine is mine, but I may choose to share it with you." The problem with this thesis is that the earth is the Lord's and all that is therein. We have simply been entrusted with a small portion of it to tend and use for the good of God's dominion while we are here.

30 Comments:

  • Great post, Mike!

    Good thinking on our schools and our teachers! As the proud father of two public school teachers, I can say that I think you are onto something here.

    Thanks also for the reminder from Witherington that we actually own nothing.

    I'll miss seeing you in Fresno. Take care.

    By Blogger Larry James, at 1/20/2006 05:42:00 AM  

  • When we were looking at houses before we moved here, we were told by a few people to not even consider certain neighborhoods because our kids would have to go to school with "you know, THOSE kids."

    So we went to one of the neighborhoods we were warned about and bought a house.

    Julia is in first grade now and we love the fact that she has friends from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. We wouldn't have it any other way. We'll leave the "keeping up with the Joneses" to the other side of town.

    Julia's best friend and several of her other friends are hispanic, and I'm looking forward to getting invited to some quinceaneras in eight years. They really party at those things!

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 1/20/2006 06:14:00 AM  

  • Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.

    Mother Teresa

    By Blogger Steve Puckett, at 1/20/2006 06:15:00 AM  

  • Yesterday we were talking to Connor about a kid (J) in his class that gets in a lot of trouble. A few years earlier he had been at the school where Kendra teaches and in her class. He's a little rough, but Connor said J doesn't bother him because he likes Kendra. (Small steps) The neat thing about that exchange was that Connor understood his mom is making an impact on kids and he seemed proud of that.

    On the other topic, remember what I told you about borrowing my truck: In the grand scheme of things, it's just as much yours as it is mine.

    By Blogger Val, at 1/20/2006 06:55:00 AM  

  • But, so how do we think this way...in a purely "stewarship frame of mind" and not ownership? How do we teach our children? How do we raise them outside of that paradigm of thinking?

    By Blogger KSullie, at 1/20/2006 07:20:00 AM  

  • Man, what implications might this frame of mind have on our traditional American thought pattern of "work hard for what you get". Does this change what we communicate to children about "saving up so you can buy ____"? Doesn't even that mentality of "if I worked for it, it's mine" imply ownership?

    If so, we've got some work ahead of us.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 1/20/2006 07:34:00 AM  

  • Thanks, Mike for the Witherington quote. You took me back to my early childhood, hearing my dad say, "Son you came in with nothing and you'll leave here the same way." He said this to me to remind me to always be watchful of those who had need. It wasn't that they had to be poor or homeless in the traditional sense of those words. They just had to have a need. It's funny who that one teaching became so ingrained, so habitual.

    Steve Jr. I guess that's how you'd teach your children. Just subtle reminders and modeling. You can still work hard and treat yourself...I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It'd be nice if we balanced that with working hard so others could have too!

    Thanks again, Mike!

    By Blogger Josh, at 1/20/2006 08:23:00 AM  

  • Couldn't agree with you more about the merit pay...not a good sign for teachers.

    4:24 am?????

    By Blogger goldlenlocks, at 1/20/2006 08:25:00 AM  

  • What about retirement? And Val maybe you should be asking Mike to borrow the truck.

    By Blogger Clint, at 1/20/2006 08:26:00 AM  

  • Val -

    In that case, I need to use our truck sometime soon to haul a few things to the dump. :)

    By Blogger Mike, at 1/20/2006 08:33:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I appreciate what you said about teachers. My daughter, currently a high school senior, soon to be a Lipscomb freshman, wants to be a teacher. Specifically, she wants to teach children with "special needs". She loves spending time with those kids through Best Buddies at the high school. As she says, "Mom, they just have so much joy and they don't care about the stupid stuff." I aspire to care less about the stupid stuff.

    Secondly, as long as we, as a society, and sadly sometimes as churches, measure a person's worth by what they "own" (ie. more stupid stuff), we will struggle with the stewardship perspective.

    Thanks for challenging my thinking, once again.

    Blessings,
    Lisa

    By Blogger Lisa McD in FL, at 1/20/2006 08:34:00 AM  

  • In that case, mike, val, can I borrow our powerpoint and you can bring it up here with you guys' truck (I don't care who drives).

    As far as retirement goes.....
    John Piper has some interesting thoughts in his book, "Don't Waste Your Life." His DVD that goes along with the book shows some passion about those beliefs.

    Matt G.

    val-thanks for living that out when offering your truck when we moved to oregon from tx. (too bad I couldn't get my inlaws to drive it back)

    By Blogger Matt, at 1/20/2006 08:56:00 AM  

  • I suggest you look at the book Freakonomics which looks at hard statistics on what tying pay to teaching does. Kids made great strides as their teachers were cheating only to lose those great gains a few years ago. This book actually analyzes data from the Chicago school system.

    I can't recommend some of the rest of the book but that section was very interesting.

    By Blogger Steve Duer, at 1/20/2006 08:58:00 AM  

  • I love all my kids teachers in public school. I know how much of an impact they have on my kids, because I remember how much they impacted me when I was in school. I am sorrowed that sometimes dreams of teaching, spurring on curiosity, and developing the individuality of each child, has to be put by the wayside to make them fit a mold on what works for the school system and fulfilling testing expectations (teachers and students alike). This coming from a parent who is in the middle of my 3rd grader on his umteenth week learning how to take the Taks test. Frustrating for parents, teachers and students I would think.

    By Blogger Tammy M., at 1/20/2006 09:03:00 AM  

  • Way too many teachers have to spend their time in discipline...in teaching basic manners and morals, and this leaves less time for teaching. When my husband taught at a school about 25 miles away (a "white flight" city...but it could have been Nearly Anywhere, USA), he had students ask what was wrong with cheating, with adultery, with taking whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. They had never been taught. The lack of training in the home is creating problems in our schools and preventing teachers from doing what they love to do...TEACH! Many years ago Paul Harvey commented that in some schools today the teachers were afraid of the administrators, the administrators were afraid of the parents, the parents were afraid of the kids, and the kids weren't afraid of anyone! When I was teaching, my principal came in and asked why Ted and Lester did so poorly on the standardized test. I was surprised, because, they scored 8.0 (the highest score) in 3rd grade. He said, "Yes, but last year (2nd grade), they scored 7.3, so they have not advanced a whole grade level." They'd topped out...they couldn't! If teachers' pay is determined by standardized tests, then teachers will teach the test (as is already happening in some states), and many other things will go untaught.

    By Blogger Momdee, at 1/20/2006 09:08:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Today you hit on one of those hot buttons for me. But I'll try to keep comment short.

    We are going to end up with a generation or two that know how to take tests and that's it. Luckily, I came before these tests came along and I have a friend who had a disability that wasn't diagnosed until she was a senior in high school. She was thought to be slow because of achievement test scores. When in all actuality - she was very intelligent and she just had a disability that kept her from being able to take tests well. When she went to an oral test environment - she ran laps around the rest of us. She went to a university that allowed for her disability and took every exam orally - and she graduated with high honors. Standardized tests is just another way to label and put things in a nice, tidy little box. I think our kids and their entire generation is going to suffer from it.

    I admire the "no kid left behind" philosophy; but the way they are going about it doesn't do any child's "uniqueness and creative talents" any good. They are robbed of having learning actually be fun; and both kids and teachers and administrators are under constant stress - that can't be good for anyone.

    I had awesome teachers (most - not all) growing up that were able to teach in ways that all kids could learn without having the pressure of test performance breathing down their necks. My friend I told you about. They knew she knew the material. So, when they got her tests and she failed - they would just call her in at recess or before/after school and ask her the questions. When she demonstrated she knew the material -they passed her. They didn't have to go through endless paperwork and send her for testing and make her someone else's problem. They cared. The reason she finally got diagnosed? Because her mother went into diagnostic testing and education. Had her mother not caught it before she went to college, I'm sure her college experience would have been very different.

    Right now we're trying to figure out what school district to buy land in for our house and I have talked to a friend at church who like Deanna has her daughter on purpose - transferred - to a low-income school. Her daugher at age 8 has had hands-on ministry experience to others in her classroom - with the help of her precious parents. As a parent, I want a good education for my child - but as I look at schools today-I realize I have a stewardship responsibility with Kade to take a hands-on approach with everything including education and ministry.

    Thanks for a great post. BTW, this IS short for me! ha!

    By Blogger Melanie Morales, at 1/20/2006 09:50:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I don't know if you're aware of it, but Witherington has his own blog at http://benwitherington.blogspot.com

    He says some good stuff on it.

    By Blogger Phil, at 1/20/2006 10:38:00 AM  

  • Mike,
    Reminds me of a chapter I read in the book Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner. He shows that teachers, sometimes, have had to fudge test scores to make sure they can receive raises. Our public school teachers have it tough.

    When we first moved here for this ministry we enrolled our son in our neighborhood public school. The school was about 70% Hispanic. We were criticized for not putting him in the private Christian school and "supporting our own." No one asked why we were doing it--they just assumed we did not want to spend the money on private education. We are glad we stuck with our convictions. He has had great teachers, a great introduction to other cultures, and is a very respectful young man. He has a heart for the lost and those who come from dysfunctional families.
    I think that many people criticize what they fear--and this may reflect our outreach and heart for evangelism.

    By Blogger KMiV, at 1/20/2006 01:59:00 PM  

  • Thanks for the word on education, Mike. I have been teaching in a second grade bilingual classroom in a Title 1 school for the last four years. It is not an easy task to say the least...but it is obvious that standardized testing hurts much more than it helps. I probably spend six weeks a year testing instead of teaching and I am in a non-TAKS grade! With benchmarks, practice tests, and real tests the upper grades spend an inordinate amount of time teaching test taking strategies instead of content. I have never voted for the other party but this NCLB is killing education.

    By Blogger Paul, at 1/20/2006 10:49:00 PM  

  • Thank you for your words about teachers, Mike. It is so hard to give your all to a job and hear nothing but disdain for how lousy you must be at it.

    I have taught in nothing but Title 1, low-income schools in my nearly 20 years in education. Occasionally my test scores have been okay. Usually they've been awful. And yet, guess what, I ain't that bad a teacher. My grammar's a bit poor but, hey.

    The schools on the north end of Fresno are always praised for their scores. Guess where the affluent side of town is.

    I prefer the south. It's just way more interesting.

    Thank you for your words today. It was wonderful to see you. Between you and Randy and John and Leonard and...well...my brain is full.

    By Blogger Thurman8er, at 1/20/2006 10:58:00 PM  

  • This has nothing to do with teachers (even though I am one,) but I'd love for you to read the article I've linked below and tell me what you think about it. I appreciated your blog on singles awhile back, and I just wonder what you'd have to say about this. I just blogged my thoughts about it.

    http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001199.cfm

    By Blogger Jennifer, at 1/20/2006 11:00:00 PM  

  • Jennifer - I just zipped over and read it. It's . . . well, I'm trying to resist the word "stupid." It's wrong. Is that better. (However, I don't want to single out that article along . . . because on that website it's among equally silly articles. Who puts out that stuff and do people really read it?)

    An attack on singleness should probably begin with the Christian story: we follow a man who remained single until his death. Much of what we know about him came from the church's greatest theologian, who also was single.

    That certainly doesn't mean we are all called to be single, but it means the article has, well, a basic flaw!

    By Blogger Mike, at 1/21/2006 05:44:00 AM  

  • I should add that my journey to that website was rewarded by this wonderful article on Epiphany by Lauren Winner: http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001191.cfm.

    By Blogger Mike, at 1/21/2006 05:49:00 AM  

  • If more teachers would actually teach, they wouldn't need to dodge the pay draft and go to easier classes.

    By Blogger Big Mike Lewis, at 1/21/2006 09:37:00 AM  

  • In my humble opinion, that illustrates the misunderstanding. There are some bad teachers out there. (I'm taking a wild guess there are also bad ministers, bad insurance agents, bad nurses, etc.)

    But you don't fix THAT problem by (1) standardized exams (which actually encourage the best teachers NOT to use their best instincts and skills in teaching) and (2) pay increases tied to stardardized exam performance (which encourages all teachers, including the best ones, to gravitate away from those with the greatest needs).

    By Blogger Mike, at 1/21/2006 12:59:00 PM  

  • I totally agree.

    By Blogger Big Mike Lewis, at 1/22/2006 08:33:00 AM  

  • For those interested, I think this may be the Ben Witherington mentioned:
    http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1/23/2006 05:25:00 AM  

  • Oops, just noticed Phil had posted the same link,sorry.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1/23/2006 05:28:00 AM  

  • Some great thoughts about education. I taught Communications in a large suburban high school for a decade before going back into paid ministry (where teaching is part of what I do every day).

    The trend toward merit pay and teaching the test has continued to wreak havoc on teachers and teaching. It discourages innovation and creativity in lesson planning and encourages politics in schools where teachers who are liked more get more. It discourages the very things we have been taught to facilitate in grad schools of education--engaging interest of students through relevance in curriculum, critical thinking skills, and the use of writing and presentations in learning. It encourages rote repetition and drill-and-skill activities that further disengage students.

    I am now of the opinion, after my experiences in the classroom, that high school is not for all kids...that it would be better to offer choices such as tech schools where kids can move into what they are interested in and can engage with...and be successful with.

    A former teacher...and an admirer of teachers.

    Glenn Drysdale,
    Houston TX

    By Blogger Glenn Drysdale, at 1/25/2006 11:18:00 AM  

  • I've been teaching in public schools for only 5 short years but there is already a form of merit pay in Texas. Every teacher is evaluated according to the PDAS system. If you make below expectations you don't recieve a pay raise for the following school year and more than likely you are put on a probational type contract. This is standard throughout TX. There are school districts that offer a bonus to schools who reach elevated levels of recognition from the state after all of the TAKS scores have come in. That alone has led to cheating by some of the teachers. It is a great motivator. But if they start tieing our whole paycheck to the scores, the cheating will increase by leaps and bounds. Personally I'm so stinking sick of testing! It takes away so much valuable time and energy from the classroom. Teachers are already under an enormous amount of stress but the TAKS doules it. I understand the need for it in theory; doesn't mean I have to like it.

    By Blogger JenniferS, at 2/02/2006 02:57:00 PM  

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