Letters To The Editor
I write to point out an error in the chart, "State Policies on 'Master Teachers"' (Education Week, Aug. 17, 1983). As part of the comprehensive changes in the teacher-preparation and certification requirements passed by the Oklahoma legislature in 1980, a "teacher-consultant'' program was established. Under the program, teacher consultants, as part of an "entry-year assistance committee," help first-year teachers. They are paid $500 a year for this work.
According to Oklahoma law, a teacher consultant is defined as "any teacher holding a standard certificate who is employed in a school district to serve as a teacher and who has been appointed to provide guidance and assistance to an entry-year teacher employed by the school district."
A teacher consultant must have at least two years of experience as a certified teacher. Consultants are selected by the principal from a list submitted by the bargaining unit. In the absence of a bargaining agent, the teachers elect the names to be submitted. More often, the local staff-development committee submits the list. Staff-development committees are made up of teachers, administrators, and parents of the district, with a majority of members classroom teachers.
The entry-year assistance committee is made up of the consultant teacher, an administrator in the district, and a college of education faculty member. The higher-education representative may be from outside the college of education, but the intent of the legislature is that when possible, both the teacher consultant and the higher-education representative have experience and expertise in the teaching field of the entry-year teachers.
Going back to the chart, then, there are state policies on selection, extra pay, and certification requirements for supervising teachers. There are no state policies on recognition, extra pay, or inservice training for supervising teachers.
Michael Pons Communications Director Oklahoma Education Association Oklahoma City, Okla.
What is the best way to obscure a troublesome problem, especially when the solution requires a great effort and a large expenditure of funds? Find an old and discarded shibboleth, shine it up, and try to sell it as a panacea. This is the time-worn procedure now being used in offering merit pay for teachers as the cure for our educational ills.
We are not sure whether merit pay is a device whose time has gone or not yet come, but we do know that a great many other things have to be done first. To start with, we have to raise salaries substantially, for all staff members--teachers, supervisors, principals--if we are ever going to attract to our schools, in sufficient numbers, college graduates with the potential to become top-notch educators.
Giving a few thousand dollars more each year to a few "master teachers," chosen by some undefined process, isn't going to lure additional applicants of high caliber into the schools--not when they still see the overwhelming majority of teachers working for low wages, and those promoted beyond the rank of teacher being paid far below the level of comparable executives in other fields. Before we can even begin to think about merit pay, we must institute a salary scale for teachers and supervisors commensurate with the educational expertise that we need and expect.
There is another "Catch 22," in many ways at least as important as the issue of salaries. A profession, to be desirable, requires that its practitioners be treated with respect and that they be given a fair chance to do their jobs. What do we see in the schools? Teachers and supervisors are beset with obstacles that impede their educational efforts at every turn: insubordination and violence with little help from outside authorities; a mass of superfluous paperwork imposed by bureaucrats and largely unrelated to the classroom; responsibilities for services that belong within the province of other agencies, such as health care, immunization, school meals, and pupil transportation; and, in many cases, a marked lack of parental support and cooperation. Worst of all is the attitude, all too prevalent, that teaching is a second-rate occupation and that teachers and supervisors should be criticized rather than appreciated.
The position of master teacher is, under the best of circumstances, a sticky issue. How do you make the selection? How will parents react if their children are not placed in the class of a master teacher? How do you keep the rest of the teachers from feeling like second-class citizens?
But these are questions to approach after we have given all the professionals in our schools the financial compensation, the relief from extraneous burdens, and the status that their jobs call for. Let's give the teaching profession the status it deserves and then start thinking about recognizing and rewarding a few outstanding individuals. And let's hope we do it soon, for the sake of our children.
Ted Elsberg President Council of Supervisors and Administrators of the City of New York Brooklyn, N.Y.
No educational issue is likely to stir up a greater emotional storm than the debate over merit pay. I am compelled to reply to a statement by Albert Shanker in "An Effort To Find Common Ground On Paying Teachers for Performance," (Education Week, Aug. 17, 1983). Mr. Shanker asserts that "... the nature of the administrator's job--which is to keep paperwork moving, to satisfy political constituents within the community, to maintain a certain amount of political support to get their own contracts renewed--may very well result in rewards being given for other reasons than outstanding classroom teaching."
Perhaps the nature of Mr. Shanker's duties as speech maker and polemicist preclude an unbiased assessment of an administrator's mission. But his cynical, erroneous perception does help explain why many teachers and administrators are mistrustful of one another. I was a classroom teacher far longer than I have been a building principal, yet I believe my primary responsibility has always been to provide the best possible learning environment for students, not to pander to the whims of so-called constituencies.
Of course, we all want our contracts renewed, but to imply that a group of people would put politics above integrity is a slander and an injustice, and it does little to promote a spirit of reasonableness or cooperation.
A review of the salient arguments defending a link between performance and pay is beyond the scope of this letter, but I hope merit pay can be assessed logically, without recourse to innuendo or stereotype. Tactics that appeal to the emotional prejudices of one's audience run counter to the rational pursuit of truth. Demogoguery may have its place in our society, but we should be able to exclude its influence from education.
Kenneth M. Wade Principal Memorial Middle School Laconia, N.H.
As a long-time admirer of the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu), I am not surprised that they have attacked the distribution of block-grant dollars to church-related schools, beginning, one assumes, in Rhode Island ("R.I. Suit Challenges Transfer of Funds to Church Schools," Education Week, Aug. 17, 1983). But the inevitable can still be disheartening. The aclu argues that parochial schools are likely to apply federal monies to audio-visual materials used to advance sectarian religious instruction. Thus everyone's tax dollars may help represent someone's religious point of view--an apparent violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The aclu/National Education Association (nea) position in the Rhode Island suit throws the baby out with the bath water. The history of federal aid to private education makes fascinating reading partly because it contains many such attempts at overkill. But especially in light of the current broad-based proposals to assist private-school children and their parents, the application of block-grant dollars to private schools seems more a right than a privilege. Private-school parents contribute to the tax base from which come the funds for federal aid to education. Should they be encouraged to deduct from their federal tax returns a portion of their child's school's block-grant benefit?
I understand why federal dollars must not be used to advance any particular religious persuasion. This position is consistent with the argument that prayer does not belong in public-school classrooms, because the next obvious question is whose prayer. But it seems to me that officials in Rhode Island have already solved the problem. They are requiring church-school people to declare that equipment purchased with federal dollars will not be used to advance their religious beliefs. Exit bath water; save baby.
An affidavit to this effect could suffice; these are worthy people who understand the need for honesty. The principle is clear enough. In showing religious-education films, projector A is to be used; projector B, the block-grant machine, will circulate in the history, English, and biology classrooms. Computer X will run software programs about the Bible, computer Y, the curricular packages in other disciplines. We cannot, after all, be absolutely clear where equipment purchased with block-grant monies for public schools will be used: borrowed, perhaps, for use at someone's church over the weekend.
And it's not as if thousands of dollars are involved for any one private school. I headed a church-related independent school of 500 students, and we knew where our Title IV equipment was. For one thing, we never owned it. It was on loan from the neighboring public-school system. For another, the ground rules and conditions were clearly stated. We were held accountable for the loaned materials, subject to an annual audit to make certain they were still in our possession.
And that raises another point: The sharing of Title IV grant monies afforded private- and parochial-school officials the opportunity to cooperate on something. We met annually with the superintendent of the local district to learn how funds would be distributed. It was one of the few ways we discovered to cooperate in benefiting all of the students in our (common) district. Lord knows there are already enough ways we compete for them!
So I entreat the aclu and the nea to look again at the distribution of block-grant funds to parochial schools. Surely private-school administrators and teachers will understand the principle you espouse and will cooperate. But don't deprive private-school students of assistance their parents have helped create.
Rev. Peter W. Sipple Headmaster Salisbury School President National Association of Episcopal Schools