Getting paid for making the grade

By By Lauren Mueller

By Lauren Mueller

No one was more pleased than I when Miss Teen South Carolina’s blundering video started circulating online last week. Because I am unemployed, YouTube is an invaluable part of my daily media consumption. And although the clip might not have featured some precocious little chipmunk or daredevil stunt gone awry, it was funny nonetheless. Lip gloss and sequins aside, the bumbling 18-year-old made an impressive point about the decaying state of the American educational system, albeit unwittingly.

Even I took pause from congratulating myself on being smarter than at least one person to consider the broader ramifications of this national, not personal, embarrassment. As the teen flailed her way through a seemingly straightforward query as to the geographical competence of the nation’s students, educators across the country must have been groaning, head-in-hands.

Clearly, America’s system of education needs an overhaul. With an ever-growing cavalcade of presidential hopefuls parading around on my television set, someone must have some ideas, right? Well, as with most “hot-button” political issues, the answer is: kinda.

However, some states are taking matters into their hands, implementing a program known as the Teacher Incentive Fund or “merit pay” for local teachers and, in some cases, administrative educators. As the name would indicate, this program dictates that teachers receive monetary rewards based on student achievement.

It seems logical, to say the least, that educators should be compensated based on performance, as in every other profession. But, as with every good idea since the beginning of time, someone will be sure to throw a fit.

Of course, there are the ivory tower dreamers who contend that money shouldn’t be the motivating factor in shaping young minds. I would hypothesize that these folks never tried to pay a mortgage and support a family on $27,000 annually.

Then, you have the group that worries about the role standardized testing will play in funds allocation. In one respect, this is a legitimate fear. I agree that any plan for education reform that places a heavy emphasis on across-the-board testing smacks of President Bush’s “Leave Every Child Behind No Matter How Fervently They Plead To Come Along Act,” but my fears were assuaged when I took a closer look at the plan as Colorado’s school districts are employing it.

After seven years of debate over the issue, Denver will be one of the first major U.S. cities to implement merit pay on a large scale. The program, locally dubbed ProComp, will take into account students’ test scores, but will also place emphasis on professional development within some of the community’s lowest-performing school districts. This has already attracted many fresh faces to schools that have struggled with teacher retention for many years. Instead of “bussing” kids from bad neighborhoods to good schools and vice versa, this plan ensures that the academic opportunities come to the students, not the other way around.

I’ll be anxious to see how this new strategy pans out in the long term, but until then, I’ll spell check extra carefully.

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