This article was originally published in print in my column ‘A Man’s Point of View’ in South Carolina Woman…
Recently, there has been a lot of coverage in the press about South Carolina Superintendent of Education Mick Zais and his initiatives to improve education in our state. As one might expect, not everyone agrees with him or his initiatives. I am one of those who disagree with much of what he plans to fix education in South Carolina.
Of course I have plenty of my own ideas. The only problem with offering all of my own opinions on his performance and plans is that I am not the most qualified to do that. I homeschool my own children. There are many reasons for this, only one of which is the general policies set forth by Zais and his staff. Because of this I asked a good friend of mine to come in as my guest this month and pen this column as a response to Zais latest efforts to rework teacher pay. My friend is Shane Watson and he is currently obtaining his masters degree in teaching from Coastal Carolina University. He has spent plenty of time both in the classroom and also on the academic side of the teaching profession in our area. I hope you enjoy his column. As usual, if you don’t agree with anything written, feel free to send me an e-mail. You are also highly encouraged to do that if you like what is said as well.
For now, here’s Shane…
In a past newspaper article “Zais aims to rework teacher pay”, we immediately see a problem with the first line. The SC education superintendent wants teacher performance to be based on effectiveness in the classroom, as opposed to seniority or post-graduate credentials. I guess we should just say thanks for sticking around and doing this tough job, and thanks for actually taking the steps to improve yourselves, but you sure aren’t going to get any kind of raise. So, from the beginning, we see that Mick Zais has no desire to encourage teachers to improve themselves with education or to stay in their jobs for any length of time. Zais says that studies show experience matters only in the first four years in the classroom and that other degrees and certifications do not boost student learning. No, teachers boost student learning, and a competent teacher that is continually improving and not falling into complacency is exactly what we want in the classroom.
Of course we want effective teachers in the classroom, and we want teachers that are unable to hold up to high standards tossed out. Unfortunately, there is no effective way to measure how a teacher performs in the classroom. What quantifiable data will we use? Test scores? Never mind the fact that using and basing people’s jobs on test scores will further standardize and ruin the class, they are just not an accurate tool to use when measuring performance. Let me give you an example. Assuming that the tests will be uniform throughout the state, we will be comparing teachers from vastly different areas of the state, dealing with issues that are nowhere close to being similar. How can we compare a teacher’s scores from say, the Coastal Scholars Academy, to a teacher’s scores from Carvers Bay High School? Just because one is higher and seems to show higher teacher performance does not mean that the other teacher is ineffective. Swap the two, and it is highly unlikely that test scores would change. So, outside of the quantifiable realm, what else can we use?
Zais suggests using evaluations from students, parents, principals, and other teaches. Allow me a moment to point out the flaw in that genius idea. If teachers give students a low grade, the evaluations will be low; therefore we will see inflated grades immediately upon implementation, ruining his wonderful idea of a student gaining an actual education. Parents almost always take the side of their children; so again, giving a student a low score will prove to be detrimental in those parental evaluations. And we all know that you get along with everyone in the workplace, right? Teachers evaluating other teachers is simply a bad idea, especially if their job depends on it.
The principals already evaluate teachers, but now that Zais is going to pay them less than teachers, and seems to think strong leadership is the wrong path, they are going to be an inadequate bunch. All of the good administrators will certainly begin to leave, giving the state especially weak school leadership. Anyone in education knows that a good school environment depends on the principals and administrators at that school. Zais is all about following his market economy and paying what it demands, or so he says. Well, there is a reason that CEOs and managers make more money that the people working for them – the market demands it.
Voters who elected Mick Zais based on his political party are quite surprised at his actions as well. He talks market and paying for demands and tries to create a system doomed for failure. His inadequacy can be summed up best by himself when he says that “Getting a master’s degree in education administration no more prepares you to be a principal than studying football prepares you to be a coach.” We all know that the best coaches are ones that become students of their sport. Yes, they need practical experience as well, but a blend of the two creates a champion. We need the exact same thing in our schools, but it seems that Mr. Zais only wants our teachers and administrators to be robots with no real thought or education themselves. Sorry South Carolina parents and students, but we are about to regress. Good thing we do not have far to fall.