Friday, February 27, 2009

Column from Dane101: Department of Public Instruction Race, WI

I write a column for a local blog called Dane101, which focuses on issues pertaining to Dane County, Wisconsin. I will be posting my columns periodically on this blog as well, but do check out their site too. It's chock-full of goodies for Dane County residents. Without further adieu, my column on the State's Superintendent race...

The choice should be a no-brainer: you should vote Tony Evers for Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction on April 7. With over 34 years of experience serving the students of Wisconsin, Evers definitely has the experience to lead in our state and our schools.

There is, however, a surmountable challenge facing Evers this April in the form of Rose Fernandez, an advocate of many conservative initiatives regarding education in Wisconsin.

Fernandez, a former pediatric trauma nurse with no relevant teaching experience, is a strong supporter of school vouchers as well as the recently controversial virtual school in Wisconsin. She also supports keeping the qualified economic offer (or QEO) in place as well as merit pay for teachers.

These ideas are wrong for Wisconsin. Firstly, increasing the number of school vouchers in Wisconsin (particularly in the Milwaukee area) would hurt students in the state. School vouchers seem like a good idea to many, but they end up doing more harm than anything for students. Vouchers take tax dollars away from public schools and give them to private schools that voucher students choose to attend. This causes public schools to lose much-needed revenue, eventually causing them to fall behind and ultimately close down, failing thousands of students in the process.

Proponents of school vouchers tout the plan’s similarities to capitalistic principles, that competition between schools will ultimately weed out the weaker ones, and that parents will finally be able to send their children to better schools. There are significant problems with these arguments, however: there is no definitive proof that vouchers actually help students do better, and parents don’t always send students to the best school in their area (if they did, they’d all send their children to the same school). Giving taxpayer dollars to private schools, which aren’t accountable to the same government standards that public schools are held to, is yet another concern that makes Fernandez’s support of such a system irresponsible.

Merit pay is another issue that Fernandez is wrong to support. It sounds like a good idea at first – on par with the tenets of capitalism, not unlike the school voucher program. According to the views held by supporters, we should reward good teachers with higher pay, and pay the teachers who aren’t doing well less. This will cause teachers to work harder for their paychecks, which will be good, in turn, for the students.

The problems with merit pay, however, outweigh the benefits. One problem is that teachers might begin to work against one another rather than with each other in hopes that their colleagues will do worse. Essentially, we may end up with a system wherein teachers intentionally sabotage each others’ efforts in order to get that bonus in their paycheck. Who suffers the most from this? The students.

Another problem with merit pay is that there isn’t a real way to practically judge what constitutes a “good” teacher with a “bad” one. Is a teacher worthy of higher merit pay if he or she receives a higher average of scores on standardized tests? Or are they worthy if they lower the number of “F” grades in their classroom? Or should we reward the teacher who works with his or her students every day before and after school, and if so, how do we measure that? The best way to rid ourselves of teachers that perform poorly is the system we currently have, which doesn’t rely upon questionable measurements that may come into play.

Tony Evers understands these issues. Rose Fernandez doesn’t understand them beyond her idealistic capitalism-saves-all mindset (the same mindset that is partially responsible for the fiscal mess our nation is currently facing). Capitalism isn’t the enemy here; I’m not advocating the removal of capitalism from our society. What I am trying to say is that, in certain situations, capitalism doesn’t work. We don’t adhere to a capitalistic mindset for basic social services; for example, the fire department is not run in a capitalistic way. We must treat every student equally, and to do that we must support a public education system that is beneficial to students, not harmful.

Evers is the right choice for schools in Wisconsin. Vote Tony Evers for Superintendent on April 7.

No comments:

Post a Comment