Merit pay for teaching has been an unfulfilled goal of many teaching proponents for decades. There are examples that show it works elsewhere in this nation.
What about the private, entrepreneurial segments of America? Do they use rewards to recognize exemplary performance, as well as to motivate quality? One prominent performance measure in manufacturing is worker productivity. The more output a worker produces over a given time period, the higher the productivity quotient, with opportunity to increase earnings. In retail trade, customer satisfaction is a crucial measure of management focus. The healthcare sector uses trial studies to achieve success through improving patients' quality of life and lengthening life span. As diverse as these three enterprises are, they each remain worldly competitive by reducing errors. Through research and measurement, they isolate those areas of operation where most errors occur, and initiate practices to reduce those errors, with merit rewards as the prime incentive.
Although somewhat simplistic, it might be useful to identify the proven techniques that aid these employment segments with error reduction.
Goal Setting: With a continuing process in place for isolating error prone activities, goals that are observable and specific are stated in written form and communicated to all those involved in error reduction. Vague goals are easy to reach, but useless.
Computer-aided Technology Use: Creating software and/or hardware designed for alleviating tasks of a repetitive nature usually helps in reducing errors. Precision results are more likely to occur with technology use, than when humans perform the same tasks.
Decision Making: The responsibility for problem solving is usually best vested in persons closest to the problem. If you see it, fix it. Don't just call a specialist.
Merit Rewards: For that person who causes success above the level of expectation, their repeated performance at that level will more likely occur with merit recognition.
Entrepreneurial Competitive Support: American ingenuity remains the reason for surges in the unprecedented growth in start-up small business employment. This American service sector continues to grow, and create solutions wherever challenges exist.
COULD MERIT REWARDS WORK IN EDUCATION ?
Now, let's examine how well these techniques are, or could, benefit public education. If the private sector finds competitive success by implementing proven approaches for error reduction, could the public sector do the same? Perhaps attention to the elements that have made our American private sector the envy of the world would do the same for education.
Let's examine them one-by-one:
Goal Setting: This is one of the important sections of the Federal Policy "No Child Left
Behind" law. Each State is empowered with the task of writing, communicating and implementing specific, measurable student learning outcomes. This state-by-state process is moving slowly and many of the already published learning goals are not measurable, therefore no one can precisely agree if these stated student-goals have even been reached.
A practical solution to this dilemma would be an insistence that all goal statements contain action verbs that define observable human behaviors. One simple, but useful list of these verbs, arranged from simplest to most complex would be to: identify; distinguish; name; place in order; describe; contrast; state a rule; apply a rule; demonstrate; and interpret.
Not only would statements containing these verbs be observable, but they would also lead to measurability, a necessity for tracking learning progress with standardized testing.
Entrepreneurial Competitive Support: With the availability of goals containing observable academic behaviors, the task of preparing test questions focused on these outcomes becomes a precision task. Research by qualified test making companies can match questions to goals very precisely. At the present time these companies provide standardized achievement tests and scored test results.
But these results are of little use to teachers who need immediate feedback to diagnose areas for remediation. The thing that would be most useful to educators would be an Internet system that could electronically supply teachers with short classroom quizzes and instant scoring.
Unique tests of any length could be downloaded, based on the teacher's subject choice of item characteristics, available from the test company's large test-item database.
Other support organizations might offer a way to provide the quiz according to teacher-chosen curriculum characteristics, but with each student in the class receiving only a few questions. And each student's questions would differ from questions of all the others in class.
When electronically graded and returned, the scoring would then cover all the questions, and a wider range of ideas, thus providing the teacher immediate feedback on reaching specific academic objectives for the whole classroom. This process has been well researched and documented for about 35 years by the independent, National Assessment Of Educational Progress.
Should the teacher find these diagnostic quiz results unsatisfactory and desire a fresh approach to teaching the concept, a database of research-proven approaches, in lesson plan format should be available by electronic means. Over the years, educational research into successful teaching approaches has been supported by government grants and contracts, but remains hidden in some government file or on some professors' bio sheet. An entrepreneurial opportunity exists to validate and communicate these ideas; greatly assisting teachers through Internet downloads.
These are just a few ideas that should be available to help teachers reduce the errors in instructing America's uneducated youth. The service sector is always willing, capable and ready to fill this void, and to accomplish it competitively.
Computer-Aided Technology Use: With the familiarity of Internet use by today's educators, transition to this classroom measurement processes could occur with little training. In fact, the proliferation of software and hardware service could even assure test-item security for test manufacturers.
The service sector has a proven ability to meet this need quickly. Teachers would need log-in codes for program entry, classroom printers to download and print unique quizzes for students to answer, built in machine scoring capability to produce a classroom score and then destroy the paper tests, and database development to capture quiz and longer test results over a semester or year for teacher look-back and self-analysis.
This is just a sample of the aids a creative society could provide as assistance for our Nation's teachers, and result in improved student academic performance.
Decision Making: It goes without saying that individual leaders manage teachers' classrooms. Their success in fostering student academic achievements rests on their ability, training and support. Having immediate, professional feedback is much better than waiting a long time for "standardized test" results that come too late to practice remediation.
Merit Rewards: The basis for granting merit pay for exceptional performance is imbedded in the record electronically produced with each use of technology outlined in this article. It can be done. The private sector has shown the way!