Opinion
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor

Algebra, Performance Pay: A Bad Mix of Policies?

April 06, 2009 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Algebra teachers know that mandating the subject at a particular grade level raises failure rates, as a recent study of Chicago high school students has confirmed (“Algebra-for-All Policy Found to Raise Rates of Failure in Chicago,” March 11, 2009). What if performance pay for teachers were added to the equation? The combination could prove detrimental for both students and teachers.

Math is a cumulative subject, and students build upon what they have already learned. Each comes into an algebra class with unique qualifications often shaped by parents, previous teachers, and peers. Add to this a shortage of higher-level math teachers. When policymakers push unprepared students into algebra, both students and teachers therefore may fail. That could translate into a punitive pay policy.

During the 1980s, I taught algebra at a selective private girls’ school where all students were expected to succeed in a rigorous 7th grade prealgebra course that prepared them well for 8th grade Algebra 1.

I transferred to Los Angeles’ first public magnet school in 1989, partly for the 50 percent pay raise. Our 7th to 12th grade students were bused in from all over the city, from numerous elementary schools and backgrounds. Many required remedial math before taking prealgebra, a rigorous course that covered such topics as integers, equations, graphing, geometry, and problem-solving.

Prepared students in grades 8, 9, and 10 came together in my Algebra 1 classes and were mostly successful, scoring well on the state algebra exam. I also taught remedial math to 10th to 12th graders whose attention spans and skills levels were low—with limited success. Would I have qualified for merit pay?

If Algebra 1 classes are filled with students of widely diverse math abilities, preparation, and attitudes, it is difficult for teachers to cover topics in the proper sequence and depth for effective cumulative learning. Teachers may lower expectations lest confused students become disruptive; struggling students may hold back higher achievers who become bored. Imagine factoring in performance pay for those algebra teachers. Who would benefit from such a policy?

Betty Raskoff Kazmin

Medford, Ore.

A version of this article appeared in the April 08, 2009 edition of Education Week as Algebra, Performance Pay: A Bad Mix of Policies?

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers' Favorite Reads This Summer
Teachers shared some of their summer book selections, with a wide variety of subject matter and genres.
2 min read
Woman reading book in hammock
Liz Yap/Education Week and iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession The Truth About Teachers' Summers
Teachers endure many misperceptions about their jobs. Perhaps the most egregious has to do with their summer break.
5 min read
Orange sandals by a pool.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession In Their Own Words How This 'Goofy Science Teacher' Made It to the U.S. Open in Golf
High school science teacher and golf coach Colin Prater just played in one of the world's most prestigious golf tournaments.
6 min read
Colin Prater hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament on June 12, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C.
Colin Prater hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament on June 12, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C.
Frank Franklin II/AP
Teaching Profession Teachers: Start Your School Supplies Shopping Now With These Discounts
As teachers start back-to-school shopping, Education Week compiled a list of educator discounts that can reduce costs.
3 min read
Photo of school supplies.
iStock