Bridgeport School Reform Should End Tenure
Appeared in the Hartford Courant on July 23, 2011: http://articles.courant.com/2011-07-23/news/hc-op-desanctis-merit-pay-teachers-0720110723_1_high-performing-teachers-teacher-tenure-bad-teachers
The potential state takeover of Bridgeport’s public schools demonstrates how badly Connecticut needs serious education reform.
Eighteen-year-old Bassick High School senior Kiara Rivera, who is pessimistic about her chances of attending college, blames poorly performing teachers who “routinely place calls or send text messages from their cell phones during class,” according to a report in the Connecticut Post. Part of the system’s failure, to which Kiara indirectly refers, is teacher tenure, which has become a guarantee of a job regardless of achievement.
Children depend on a good education to find success later in life. A good education requires excellent teachers, and this requires giving administrators the ability to let go of poor performers. Sadly, this is almost impossible. Tenure assures even the worst-performing teachers a job for life at the expense of their students’ futures.
The Bridgeport public schools spend around $14,265 per student. Nationally, things look the same: “… education spending in America has increased to $9,000 per student today, vs. $4,300 in 1971 (adjusted for inflation), yet math and reading scores in the country have both flat-lined. America ranks a pitiful 25th in math and 21st in science among 30 developed countries …” according to a 2010 article in The Economist magazine. Increasing spending per student will not solve all the problems in Bridgeport’s public education system or nationally. Retaining and recruiting talented teachers and letting go of poorly performing ones will help tremendously. As The Economist noted, “good teachers can cover 150 percent of a required curriculum, while bad teachers may cover as little as 50 percent.”
Connecticut and schools nationally need to drop teacher tenure in favor of a merit pay system, and here are a few reasons why:
Merit pay will help attract the nation’s brightest thinkers, talented individuals from America’s workforce and soon-to-be college graduates. It will retain high-performing teachers by rewarding them for success. People in this talent pool will choose to teach if they know they’ll be justly compensated for working hard.
Teachers will be motivated to produce even better results. People accomplish more when their successes are rewarded. Basing salary increases only on the number of years worked is not an incentive to achieve.
Pay linked to success will help alleviate the current teacher shortage in states across America. Some such as Maryland have offered signing bonuses and tuition reimbursements. Texas recruits teachers from Mexico and Bridgeport has hired from India to fill its gaps. Merit pay should help attract more teaching candidates.
Certainly, merit pay will not solve all the challenges in public education, such as the lack of family support and structure for many children. However, it is one important and necessary change.
Moving quickly on changes such as merit pay will eventually help improve our economy and reduce unemployment. Approximately 7,000 students in America drop out of high school every school day. Dropouts are more likely to go to prison, need government welfare assistance, and cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in lost wages. Yet, a significant decrease in dropouts offers tremendous benefits: “If U.S. high schools and colleges raise the graduation rates of Hispanic, African American, and Native American students to the levels of white students by 2020, the potential increase in personal income would add more than $310 billion to the U.S. economy,” according to the Alliance for Education in 2009. We cannot afford to ignore effective public school reform any longer. The status quo is not working.
Reward the hardworking and successful teachers. Even better, pay the top ones six figures. In the years to come, our children and economy will benefit. And in the end, Bridgeport students such as Kiara Rivera might not be so pessimistic about their chances of attending college.