In the past few months, the North Carolina legislature has pushed forward two bills (see here and here) designed to change the way that teachers are held accountable.

While the bills are different in a few important ways, they share a common trait:  Neither are likely to improve education — and both are likely to hurt kids — because they are built on three fundamentally flawed assumptions about what works in schools.

Here are those flawed assumptions:

Flawed Assumption #1: Competition is the Key to Improving Schools

Like many state legislatures, North Carolina is working to strip away contract protections from teachers and to replace them with alternatives that encourage competition between teachers for long-term contracts.

The Senate’s proposal, for example, makes it possible for principals to offer four-year contracts ONLY to the top 25% of teachers in their schools.  The rest of the teachers in any building will work on one-year, terminating contracts.

Competing for long-term contracts, argues Representative Bryan Holloway, will keep teachers “on their toes from the day they step into the classroom.”

Whether or not Holloway is right in assuming that there are large numbers of teachers who actually NEED a outside incentive to do their best on a year-to-year basis, encouraging teachers to compete against one another for contracts will literally kill collaboration between teachers in our schools.

Think about it:  If YOU identified instructional practices that were effective at helping students learn, would YOU share  them with your peers if you knew that sharing them with your peers might actually put YOUR own long-term employment in jeopardy?

My guess is that your answer is no.  Instead, you’d keep your best practices a closely guarded secret — and allow students in classrooms with less effective peers to languish.

How does THAT improve education?

Flawed Assumption #2: Teachers Can Be Motivated by Cash Incentives

The most bothersome suggestion in either bill put forth by the North Carolina Legislature is the Senate’s plan to offer $500 annual bonuses to teachers who place in the top 25% of any school’s teaching workforce.

Not only are $500 bonuses insulting — earning an extra $50 a month in a state where teaching salaries have been frozen for the past six years hardly seems like much of an incentive, y’all — legislators who push bonuses ignore the simple truth that few teachers report leaving the profession because of their salaries to begin with.

Instead, we leave the profession because we’re dissatisfied with our working conditions.  We’re just plain tired of bearing the brunt of the criticism for what’s wrong with education even though we have little control over what happens in our buildings.

Legislatures that REALLY wanted to keep accomplished individuals in the classroom would keep their bonuses and instead create the kinds of workplaces that any accomplished professional would be drawn to.

Flawed Assumption #3: Standardized Test Scores Provide Reliable Evidence of Accomplished Teaching

North Carolina’s proposals for changing the way that teachers are held accountable use standardized testing data as the tool for identifying the best educators.

Outside of the fact that just over 40% of school employees actually work in tested subjects — which means that either MOST educators WON’T be held accountable by these proposals or that students are going to start taking WAY more standardized tests — suggesting that multiple-choice exams can actually help schools to identify accomplished teachers ignores piles of evidence about the value of the tests that we are currently giving to our kids.

Need proof?

Consider the fact that 60% of the accomplished professionals — state legislators, business leaders, scientists — who recently took Rhode Island’s high-stakes graduation exam FAILED it.

Or consider the fact that a recent study out of Northwestern University shows that students who do well on standardized tests are rarely successful at the kinds of cognitive tasks that it takes to succeed in knowledge-driven workplaces.

Long story short:  Policies like those being pushed through the North Carolina legislature aren’t likely to improve education. 

They create isolated environments where best practices are protected instead of shared; they create incentives that won’t keep accomplished individuals in our classrooms; and they rely on evidence that does little to identify teachers who are actually preparing students who will succeed in tomorrow’s world.

Does this make sense to anyone OTHER than me?



Related Radical Reads:

Value-Added Teacher Accountability Models Fail Kids AND Communities

What Every Parent Should Know about Merit Pay in Education

Nate Silver on Using Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers

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