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Davis, California

Monday, May 20, 2024

Column: Teachers’ worth

In 2009, the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) performed a study called the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This study, which takes place every three years, evaluates the performance of world nations in relation to each other and examines ways in which each nation was successful.

One of the findings found that the average OECD country pays its lower secondary teachers 118 percent of the per capita GDP — adjusted for purchasing power — while the U.S. pays its teachers 94 percent. The study also found that there was a correlation between higher pay and greater student achievement.

If you think about it, the average college student spends almost two decades of their life in an educational institution. The majority of those twenty years of life will be spent with teachers — teachers who have the singular goal of educating and nurturing the minds of their students, preparing them for a future in a big, scary, competitive world.

That is a lot of responsibility.

Shouldn’t excellent teachers be rewarded for their hard work? Shouldn’t we provide incentive and encouragement for teachers to continuously improve in their profession? The implementation of performance pay for the teaching profession could mean a learning revolution.

A pay raise or bonus for doing better as a teacher will provide an incentive to look into creative, alternative forms of teaching that enhance the learning experience of students.

Additionally, payment for performance will attract greater numbers of potentially more talented people who might have viewed teaching as a less practical profession, as they are more likely to receive better salaries working in the private sector.

There are, however, many valid concerns against the implementation of a merit-based pay system.

The largest of these concerns is that teachers will become corrupt. Instead of actually teaching, they’ll feed students answers and only cover material that pertains to standardized tests. As a result, students won’t actually learn anything and will simply become machines regurgitating information.

Tying into concerns of corruption is the way in which teachers are evaluated for their performance pay. Previous attempts to implement merit-pay based solely on testing scores has actually been proven to contribute to corruption.

And, as always, there is the issue of funding — the elephant in nearly every room related to improving the current state of things. Performance pay will in all likelihood require a significant increase in school budget — especially in lower-income areas that need performance pay the most.

Are there solutions to these concerns? There is nothing smack-down definitive, but there are a number of things I think are worth trying.

To combat the issue of corruption, there might be evaluations issued at semester intervals asking students to discuss their teachers’ methods. This, in fact, can also be applied to the evaluation for their teacher’s pay, and be turned around to help the educators expand and refine their methods.

Another possibility can be sit-ins by co-workers and school leadership. Teachers are less likely to be dishonest when fellow educators join their class to observe them, perhaps during the off hour that teachers frequently have. This also provides the opportunity of evaluating the teacher’s methods, as well as allowing the observing co-workers to take notes on what is effective and what isn’t.

One highly controversial suggestion is to have recording devices placed in classrooms. Originally suggested as a solution to teacher abuses of authority, it does provide the potential for evaluating methodology and honesty, but is frequently considered a severe invasion of privacy and a massive money sink.

Many of these possible solutions will require a substantial amount of funding. And yet, the government keeps cutting school access to funds. During these times, teachers are frequently laid off or take pay cuts. While we might not notice the effects now, there will definitely be repercussions in the future.

We already don’t pay our teachers enough; it’s a small wonder that U.S. rankings on the international scale remain at the “below average” to “average” range. We need to start looking at new ways to invigorate our education system. Education is one of the biggest, most important investments of a nation, and one of the main aspects by which a successful society is measured.

Tell DERRICK LEU what you think about teachers’ salaries at derleu@ucdavis.edu.


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