Getting Outside the Box on Education.

If there is one issue that both parties can agree needs to be address both on the national and state level, it is education. The Nevada education system has been at the forefront of the legislature the entire session. Even though we can all agree that something must be done to improve our schools, no one can seem to agree on the methods for doing so.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis admitted the failure of his plan to raise taxes to increase funding for education, saying, “[a]t the end of the day we will do nothing to help our kids, it is really a shame.” The Majority Leader is guilty of the same intellectually faulty reasoning that is normally applied to education issues. Raising taxes does not necessarily mean that the education system would be improved in Nevada, nor does it impede the chances of success of other methods for improvement.

Funding education is an important part of our government’s responsibilities, but merely adding money to a poorly functioning machine does not solve our problems. Mr. Denis would be doing all of us a favor if he put the theatrics aside and focused on reforming our broken system. The GOP, the Governor and other individuals have put forward some interesting proposals that the Democrats have ignored in favor of their tax raising plans.

Several weeks ago the Nevada Policy Research Institute released a report by former state superintendent Jim Guthrie. In this report, Guthrie makes the argument for his idea of creating a class of “Master Teachers” comprising the top 10% of our public school teachers, and they would be paid $200k per year. It may sound a little far fetched at first, but Guthrie makes a valid argument for it.

The first step would be introducing a testing method known as Value Added Modeling. This system attempts to overcome the objections to standardized testing and merit based pay. Instead of grading teachers on the absolute results of their class room, the Value Added method grades teachers based on the what should be expected from their students based on previous testing. Value Added attempts to find teachers that improve their students’ performance above what should be expected from them. The teachers that improve the testing scores by the biggest percentages will be rewarded, instead of solely the teachers who get the highest score. Using this method will give teachers in traditionally poor performing schools a chance to compete with teachers in better settings. While it is impossible to have a perfectly fair method for testing teachers, this method is as close as we have available now. It is currently being put to use in Tennessee.

Once the teachers are tested, the top ten percent would be offered a contract as a “Master Teacher”. The contract would last for one or two years and would require the teacher to be sent to the worst performing schools in the state. Once the term of the contract expires the teacher would be eligible only if still ranked in the top ten percent. This would surely be a challenge for teachers sent to poorly performing classrooms, but the incentive of 200k a year will have a great effect on encouraging teachers to perform to their utmost ability.

While it might seem to most people that teachers would support this massive pay increase, those who are familiar with the Teachers Union know that they have already come out strongly against the idea. The first standard attack unleashed is the unfairness of standardized testing, even though the proposal put forward by Mr Guthrie uses the most advanced testing method available. Instead the Unions argue that pay scales should be determined by length of service and the qualification of the teachers, they also contend that teaching is different from other professions because “caring about teaching and the children” is such an integral part of the job. While these positions may sound reasonable, they are actually a smoke screen for avoiding responsibility.

If you were to undergo surgery, would you prefer the doctor who cared about the outcome of the operation or the one that took a lackadaisical view of it? In all major professions, the worker who is emotionally invested in the success of the outcome is the one that excels; this drives them to become better at their job through practice, studying and inventiveness. The argument that caring about kids or teaching is irrelevant when compared to other professions. Of course we don’t want someone who doesn’t want to be a teacher instructing our children, any more than we want a pilot who doesn’t want to be a pilot.

This foggy thinking also applies to the other arguments put forward by the teachers union. They refuse to accept testing as a method for evaluating teachers. Even the Value Added method fails to win their support; they instead support length of service and personal educational achievement as the standards that should govern teachers’ salaries.

Perhaps the reader can indulge me and imagine attending a performance review at your place of employment. While your boss attempts to grade you on your performance and usefulness to the company, you insist that you should instead be graded on your willingness to do the work, how much you enjoy the job and the amount of supplementary education you have amassed. In the real world, this is a joke. Employees are not graded on such theoretical standards; they are rated on hard facts and production. Unfortunately, in the world of education this is how it works. Teachers point to how much they want to teach children and use the system to earn new degrees, which increase their salaries.

When we start to break down the Teacher Union’s arguments and apply them to the real world, they don’t hold water.

The proposal put forward by Mr Guthrie is just one of the many ideas floating around that attempt to change the status quo of education.

The GOP and Governor Sandoval have been attempting for years to get the Democratss to agree to changes in our constitution that would allow a charter school system in Nevada. Unfortunately for those stuck in poorly performing schools, the Dems refuse to consider the idea. This year the Governor put forward an inventive measure get children into charter schools without changing the constitution.

Under his plan, businesses could make donations to scholarship programs that would only benefit children of poor families, getting them into better schools and improving their life prospects. The donation that the company made would be deducted from their taxable income. In effect, the company would be paying the exact same in taxes, but some of the money would be sent directly to supporting students as opposed to working its way through the government. The Democrats and Unions have voiced their opposition to the law, citing the fact that it would mean less money in the government’s education budget. While skipping over the obvious fact that this decrease in money would also mean a decrease in students as they take advantage of the program. Once again their argument fails to hold water.

Education needs reform, adding more money to the system with out substantial changes will only institutionalize the foggy thinking and emotional pleas that the Teacher Unions rely on. Forcing changes through the government will make Teachers, Administrators, Districts and the Government more accountable for the success or failure of our education system.

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