As someone who used to work under the dome of the state Capitol, I can tell you that many interim study hearings are not worth the ink spilled printing their agendas. A refreshing exception is the review of merit pay for teachers under way in the state House.
We say that teachers are professionals and should be treated as such, and yet we pay them like interchangeable cogs. Make no mistake, this is a perfect example of where the interests of the teachers' union is at odds with the interests of teachers, not to mention students. Individual teachers deserve to be compensated with respect to their qualifications and determination like any other professional. It's not a bribe " it's justice. The union just wants to have influence, and there is no easier way than to represent large numbers of identical laborers.
When Speaker Lance Cargill asserted that "we should be rewarding success, not punishing it by encouraging mediocrity," the Oklahoma Education Association's president, Roy Bishop, employed a cheap high school debate trick and asked if Cargill "believes Oklahoma teachers are mediocre?" This issue deserves to be discussed on its " well " merits, not frivolously.
The basic, commonsense question is this: Why should the talented and industrious be treated equally with the ineffective and lethargic? I am not too old to remember the difference. I had teachers in high school who went the extra mile and opened up new worlds of discovery. An hour later, I would be sitting with eyes glazed over while another teacher popped in a video and read the paper.
Consider nurses. They are not merely bumped up a pay grade for each year of service. Rather, they intensively are reviewed against a variety of metrics including continuing education, patient results and work ethic.
Various hospitals approach evaluations in different manners. The administration builds and manages a team and takes responsibility for the results. If nurses are dissatisfied with the methods or results, they look elsewhere. If an administration is dissatisfied with performance, it seeks a replacement or cultivates unused potential.
Meanwhile, the OEA's ally, Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, has weighed in on the issue by complaining about the use of standardized tests in evaluating teacher performance. However, there are very different ways of doing this.
Obviously, teachers should not be rewarded solely based on the bottom line number on a standardized test, as if in a vacuum. On the other hand, if a teacher presides over a dramatic increase in test scores, then that teacher deserves more than just a pat on the back.
Obstruction is not the answer. Implementation of merit pay in Minnesota shows how helpful a cooperative teachers' union is, but the state cannot be held hostage by unrealistic demands by union bosses. The Legislature should pass a resolution early next year declaring that the principle of merit pay will be realized in the 2008 session. After that, feel free to haggle over the details and the exact figures. But, get every legislator on the record early so that those who are all talk can be held to account. It is time to make excellence in education an overriding priority in Oklahoma " and to put our money where our mouth is.
Reese is an attorney who lives with his wife and son in Oklahoma City.