Archive for tenure

Reforming Education: Merit-Based Employment

Posted in opinion with tags , , , on January 29, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Education is imperative. So much depends on our ability to utilize every opportunity to learn something new, that if we miss even one opportunity, we fall far behind our peers.

And yet, there are problems with the current education system in America. Our current system was created during the Industrial Revolution, and is mostly based on a “liberal arts” mindset, having required credits for English, math, science, social studies, physical education, and the arts. Everything seems right in our system, except for one thing: the teachers.

Many times the only thing stopping students from getting a good education is having a teacher who knows that they cannot be fired. Sometimes, this is a good thing, as it allows fantastic teachers to teach controversial topics without worrying about having severe actions taken against them. But more often than not, the teachers who are tenured only try for those first four years, and then feel that because they can’t be fired, they don’t really have to try anymore.

In my experience, I’ve only had a couple of really great teachers. It was usually my English teachers and a few of my music teachers. But my all-time favorite professor in college made this brilliant statement in regards to student evaluations we have to fill out at the end of every term:

“Senior faculty members only have to have students fill out an evaluation for one class, whereas adjunct faculty members must have them for all of the classes they teach. Then there are senior faculty such as myself who have students fill out evaluations for all of their classes, because we want to make sure we’re up to par in all aspects of our teaching.”

Which gives me an idea: why don’t we employ and pay teachers according to skill level? It would be an incentive for teachers to always perform at their best, and in turn it would allow students an opportunity to get a quality education. While extrinsic motivation is definitely not the right way to go, it will definitely give value to the type of education that is being given.

Look at it this way: Teacher A and Teacher B both teach chemistry. They are both equally skilled at their position. They both teach an equally capable classroom, and yet, Teacher B’s students don’t have as firm of a grasp on the material as Teacher A’s students. By this logic, Teacher A is the more effective teacher, and deserves a higher pay than Teacher B.

Of course, this is assuming that they are teaching at Utopia High School in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota (“Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average”). In reality, the students will require different teaching techniques as each student has a different learning style. But this is where the new employment system shines: it will give teachers an incentive to modify their teaching style to their students’ learning style.

The only foreseeable problem in this plan is how to determine what an effective teacher is. Standardized testing isn’t the way to go, as many students can be poor test takers. The best option at this point is to have an evaluation form for students to fill out, making sure that all questions are worded so as to only question the teaching methods and not the teacher. Granted, kids might be giving lower scores to teachers they don’t like, and higher scores to ones they do like.

So how do we offset this problem? Is there a way that we can make sure that the scores are accurate. Part of what we can do here is having observation hours, like teachers are required to have when they are in college. Of course, that could be cumbersome, as who would be qualified to observe and judge different teachers in different settings? Another option would be to take into consideration the test and homework scores along with the evaluation scores. There could possibly be a correlation between grades and feelings toward school (in fact, there have been studies that suggest that students with poor grades often have a poor outlook on schooling).

Whatever it is that needs to be done, it needs to be done soon. The last reports that have been out have placed Americans 10th in the world in Science skills, 12th in reading, and under 20th in mathematics. This current plan to focus students on those specific fields is poor judgment, as studies have shown that students involved with music and the arts do better in school than students that aren’t involved in such things.

Looking back on my education experience, I’ve had plenty of teachers and professors that could use a little more incentive to improve their teaching styles. I felt like this needed to be addressed, as the latest statistics at Wartburg College show that 85% of the college budget comes from the students (tuition, room and board, other fees), yet 69% of that budget goes toward faculty paychecks. Personally, I don’t feel like my tuition money should go right into the pockets of professors I’ll never meet, and especially to those professors who don’t really deserve it.

But until I get my say in anything education related, especially since I’m not in school to¬† be an educator, I’ll have to stay in the background.

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