Teachers, how would you feel if your ability to earn a performance bonus was, in part, decided upon by the parents of the children you teach? Well, this is exactly what many school districts in the state of Idaho have decided to do. Let’s take a closer look.
Idaho is in the process of implementing broad education reforms which will require schools to award deserving teachers with performance bonuses. And about a third of their school districts will be asking parents to play a key role in the evaluation process.
To be exact, 29 school districts throughout the state are allowing parents to be an integral part of the decision regarding performance bonuses for teachers. For example, in the Challis district in the central Idaho countryside, teachers will be required to be in contact with each of their students’ parents at least twice every three months in order to remain eligible for bonuses.
Let’s explore that requirement for just a moment. My first question is whether this means that teachers who have more than one group of students which they teach would be required to make contact with the parents of all of the students they teach the same number of times as an elementary teacher with just one class? Let’s just do the math for a moment. I team teach with another teacher, and together we have 57 students. If we each had to call all of those students’ parents two times every three months, that would mean 114 phone calls. If we stretched those phone calls over approximately 90 days, we would have to make 1 to 2 phone calls daily, along with all of our other duties (and there is no way of knowing how long these calls will take). I don’t even want to consider mathematically what this would mean for high school teachers.
My second question is this: When do you think you are most likely to reach the majority of your students’ parents? The evening, right? Most of our parents work and can only be reached in the evening when teachers are home with their own families. Now, these teachers in Idaho are expected to make school-related phone calls from their home on a regular basis? Is that fair to their own families? This would not only cut into their time with their family but would also cut into the time they set aside for grading and planning at home for school. And what about those parents who, for whatever reason, you are never able to reach? You have to keep calling repeatedly in the hopes that you are able to reach them twice in that 3-month period? And what if there are some parents, try as you may, that you just can’t reach? Does that take you out of the running for bonus pay? Seems very unfair to me.
In the farming town of Gooding, Idaho, near the Challis district, some teachers will receive 25 percent of their bonus pay if they can somehow get enough (not sure what is considered enough) of their parents to attend three meetings throughout the course of the academic year. Challis Superintendent Colby Gull told the Associated Press, “We’re a really little town in the middle of nowhere. Parents are pretty involved in what’s going on. But we wanted to get them more involved in the academic side of the school.”
Now, maybe in a small farming town this is a little easier for teachers to accomplish, but is this a fair expectation of teachers everywhere? Should teachers really be placed in a position of coercing their students’ parents to attend school meetings? I think this crosses the line, and I would be very reticent to contact parents to persuade them to do anything other than to ask for their help with an issue I am facing regarding their child.
Jeanne Sager, a parent and writer of The Stir, wrote, “In Idaho, a teacher’s raise could be rated on how many parents show up for conferences or how many parents return paperwork sent home. To me, that’s just bizarre. It’s not her (or his) fault if some parents don’t take an involved role in their kids’ education. As far as I can tell, going to a house to kidnap a parent, then carting them into a school building is still a felony!”
RiShawn Biddle at Dropout Nation says to get used to it. “Accepting families as lead decision-makers in education” is critical to addressing America’s education crisis. Parents aren’t “nuisances and enemies” — they’re a necessary part of any successful school.
I have had some wonderful, highly-involved parents over the years who have helped in the classroom, supported their child’s education, attended every parent-teacher conference and PTA meeting, and been an integral part of their child’s educational experience. On the flip side, I have had parents who have ignored my phone calls, emails, and letters home to come in for a conference, who never look at their child’s assignment book or help in any way with their child’s homework, who don’t even leave a working phone number in the office in order to contact them in case of an emergency, and who have the audacity, given the fact that they have rarely, if ever, even set foot in the school, let alone my classroom, to tear public education down in general and teachers down specifically.
Do I want parents to be a factor in determining my pay? The good ones, yes, the uninvolved ones, no way! Unfortunately, teachers will not be able to pick and choose which parents will be questioned. And if you don’t think that will influence how teachers teach and how they discipline the children in their classrooms, you are sorely mistaken. To please parents, teachers will have to please their children, and that is not always possible, especially when dealing with children who have behavior or academic issues.
As Jeanne Sager writes:”… some parents are more than happy to go on the attack because they don’t get what they want: flawless teachers who have personal time for every student and their parents. Now add in the parents who are always convinced their kid is right 100 percent of the time (we all know at least one). Plus the parents who start out every year convinced teachers have it easy because they have summers off. Oh, and we might as well throw in the parents who heard from a friend of a friend that this teacher did X, but have no real idea.”
“If these parents all get a say, what does that do to a teacher? More importantly, what does it do to a classroom? Suddenly the teacher has to decide whether or not she disciplines the class brat because she has to worry that his parents are determining her paycheck! And she’s spending more time on the phone trying to coerce parents to show up than actually teaching your kid 3 + 3.”
And the last piece of bad news for teachers in Idaho is this: One hundred five school districts and charter schools have written their own merit-pay plans so far, which use an assortment of benchmarks. Some of these include graduation rates, student attendance, and writing assessments. Fifty districts and charter schools in the state decided to comply with the state’s plan, which attaches bonuses to standardized test scores. And since teachers across the state will have to meet Idaho’s goals, test scores will be the one common factor upon which all teachers will be judged for performance bonuses.