Sometime ago software mogul Bill Gates decided he had something besides computer technology to offer American schools. When Gates speaks, America listens. After all he did build a Microsoft empire and become one of the richest people on the planet…every apple he touched turned to gold.
At the same time the American educational system began suffering a loss of identity. Following half a century of stellar performance, American children began to falter. Basically this was the result of two opposing forces fighting for possession of the classroom’s soul, one focused on intelligence, the other on happiness. The aftermath has been continuously plummeting test scores with US students falling behind their foreign counterparts in all areas, except one – confidence. When asked how they felt they had performed, American youth were surprisingly pleased with their performance EVEN WHEN THEIR TEST RESULTS WERE SCRAPING THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL!
Enter Bill Gates and his sidekick Michelle Rhee, the former and highly controversial Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools, proposing a solution: Run schools like corporations and pay teachers based on their students’ standardized test scores. To reinforce their message, they were both major players in the creation of the recent documentary “Waiting For Superman” that blames poor performance on the “Bad Teacher(s)” and the unions that protect them like Luca Brazi.
The success of a corporation like Microsoft that produces technology depends on two areas of performance: the idea generators and the final products (in this case the sum of metal and wire parts). Likewise, the success of a school depends on two areas of performance: the idea generators (educators) and the students. A strong teacher can generate excellent ideas, but a student may not have the right parts in place to become an excellent product and vice versa.
Merit pay is a constructive incentive except when the goal of making money trumps student learning. This past week in the Atlanta public schools 178 administrators and teachers were cited for participating in widespread cheating that involved 44 of their 56 schools. This included erasing and correcting mistakes on students’ answer sheets, silencing whistle-blowers, and rewarding subordinates who met score goals. When the focus is on the product and not the process, this is what can happen. Who gains? The adults. Who loses? The children. In this case they are mostly African Americans students in an economically disadvantaged district.
The quality of a computer is far easier to control than the quality of a student,
especially when human nature and ability are key components. Educators can’t remove the deficient parts of their students and replace them with perfect counterparts to ensure the quality of their products. Faced with this dilemma and now with money riding on it, desperate educators may do desperate things, like cheating on tests while simultaneously cheating their students out of an education.
The core of the situation is this: You can’t run a classroom like a boardroom.