FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

And Then God Said…

by DAVID MACARAY

No matter how disillusioned we are with Barack Obama—no matter how disgruntled or disappointed we are with the job he’s done as president—none of us would be silly enough to suggest that if only we had paid the man, say, $1,000,000 a year instead of that measly $400,000, he would have done a better job, because, as everyone knows, the more you pay a person, the harder they work.

As absurd as that suggestion would be, a version of it is being used by anti-union propagandists and free-market fanatics to attack our public school teachers. They’re not only pretending that a bonus system rewarding teachers for raising standardized test scores is the way to fix what ails our education system, but conversely, they’re arguing that if the carrot doesn’t work, you revert to the stick. You fire teachers whose students don’t improve their test scores.

But a recent study by Vanderbilt University more or less put the kibosh to those simplistic theories. In the Vanderbilt study teachers were offered bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 if they succeeded in raising significantly the test scores of their students. The results? None of these highly motivated teachers qualified for the bonus. Why? Because, by and large, they were already teaching to the best of their ability.

Consider this analogy. A baseball manager says to a player coming up to bat, “Fred, if you get a hit, I’ll give you $10,000.” Fred responds, “Wow, an extra ten grand for getting a hit? In that case I’ll try really hard.” Or conversely, the manager shouts to the player, “If you don’t get a hit, Fred, I’m going to send you down to the minors.” A stunned Fred responds, “Sent down to the minors!? No way, Skip. I’m going to try really hard.”

Or this analogy: After experiencing a 10-percent rise in crime two years in a row, a city council decides to fire all the police. Or a hospital fires all the staff nutritionists because of an alarming increase in patient obesity. While these analogies (like all analogies) are flawed, they nonetheless serve to drive home the central point that hasty, tough-minded, and seemingly resolute solutions aren’t the way to solve problems.

At the risk of another analogy, think of a football coach who isn’t allowed to choose his own team. Random players are assigned to him. Not only has he no say as to who plays on his team, he isn’t even given the chance to mold them into a cohesive unit because he’s assigned brand new players every year. He’s given only one season to show what he can do. Yet his bosses warn him that if he doesn’t start winning, he’ll be fired.

If all this sounds like teachers are trying to weasel out of responsibility by making excuses, that’s not the case. Teachers aren’t suggesting they not be held accountable. What they’re saying is that we acknowledge the realities of the classroom, that we not gloss over the real problems, formidable as they may be, and pretend that the flaws in our education system are the fault of the teachers (or, as free-market fundamentalists would have us believe, the teachers’ union).

A teacher in the LAUSD told me the following. It was a bit startling to hear, but it made perverse sense. He said that if we ever reached the point where the emphasis of public education were placed entirely on standardized test performance—and if hard-working teachers could be summarily fired for not producing high enough scores—what we would soon encounter is widespread cheating.

And here’s the beauty of that widespread cheating. Nobody would object to it.

Students would be amenable to “tutoring,” parents would be pleased to see improved scores, politicians would gladly take credit for the results, school administrators would rejoice in any solution that got the Board of Education off their backs, and the companies that provide the tests would continue to rake in the cash. This being America, the Land of the Short-Term Solution, it would be your classic win-win outcome.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail