Who is Arne Duncan and how will his choice as Secretary of Education affect education in the US (and, for better or worse in this hegemonic age, much of the rest of the world)? I’ve spent so many hours since the announcement reading reactions online that both my eyes and my brain cells are fried. (Enjoy the Diigo bookmarks if you’re masochistic.) All that reading will have to steep for a while before I can serve it as tea.
Until that happens, I’m going to focus on one controversy surrounding Duncan, and toss out some thoughts on it. That controversy is performance pay for teachers.
Bill Ferriter’s excellent recent post on this issue at the Tempered Radical got me thinking. I replied there,
Thinking about it a little more, this is what I can come up with so far:
We’d have to define “merit” to include the higher-order thinking skills – analysis, synthesis, evalutation/critical thinking, creativity – that the best learning projects require. This is not the opposite of the “fact-based, right/wrong, multiple choice” testing that NCLB and the College Board/AP/SAT pushes, but what you might call the upward extension of it. Mastery of facts is the beginning, not the end, of the assessment for meritorious teaching and learning.
If we start there, that means teacher merit is measured by the types of projects that are assigned in the classroom – not by the standardized testing industry – and by the performance of students who complete these projects. This further means that said teacher measurement is performed not centrally, but locally – or perhaps by boards consisting of local and central judges. (I know that “central” is vague.)
My thinking is that if teachers were rewarded for designing learning activities that measured positively against a checklist of such higher-order thinking traits – and crucially, that the measurement was based not on a single unit, but on a portfolio of all units assigned throughout the semester or year (this eliminates the dog-and-pony show liability of single principal evaluations) – then the best teachers would be rewarded with higher pay, while the worst ones would have an incentive to change their practice for the better. Teaching to the test wouldn’t be the goal any more; teaching to higher instructional standards would be.
As for what those higher instructional standards would look like, we need look no further than Linda Darling-Hammond for answers. Her presentation linked in an earlier post lays the groundwork for such guidelines.
As I commented on Will’s post about the Duncan pick,
Since Darling-Hammond led BO’s ed transition team, she may have had his ear long enough to fill it with good sense on how to reform NCLB’s assessments for the better – so that they align with better teaching-and-learning.
And I just discovered Bill Ferriter posted a follow-up to my comment, so off I go to fry a few more cells. Bill’s worth it.