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Cyclops: Will school rift affect students?
by Bryan Gray
Aug 10, 2011 | 177 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What began as a local issue could become the spark of an inflammatory statewide issue pitting conservative Republicans against Democrats. How it ends will say a lot about us and our sense of fair play.

The issue started late last month when the Ogden School District announced it would not negotiate with the local education association and giving teachers an ultimatum: sign a contract within three weeks or find work elsewhere.

Furthermore, the school board vowed to formulate a system of performance pay over the next six years. Some teachers would receive raises, some wouldn’t.

To Democrats, it was a sheer case of union-busting, similar to what occurred earlier this year in Wisconsin. To conservative Republicans, the school board was merely doings its duty, getting a stable workforce for the soon-to-start school year and rewarding effective teachers rather than everybody on the payroll.

I suspect most Utahns will side with the school district. The concept of paying good teachers more is appealing, as is the “sign or let somebody else do the job” contract threat.

And, of course, it worked. All but one of the teachers in the district signed their contract. The school district had the power and was confident of victory. But as we were taught as children, simply because we can do something doesn’t necessarily mean we should.

If I were a boss or supervisor, I would hope my staff would have an element of trust that I cared about their needs and expectations—even if, due to economic challenges, I couldn’t set things right. That trust is gone in Ogden, and I imagine many of the teachers will refuse to give any “extra effort.”

As for the performance pay, the problem is not with the theory but the implementation. An instructor of Advanced Placement math will naturally get better student scores than a teacher in an economically-disadvantaged Title One school, so performance cannot be fairly equated with test scores or percentile increases.

Furthermore, some of your favorite teachers may have infused the class with creativity and energy rather than a robotic approach to a state-mandated lesson plan. These teachers who inspired you could be left out in the cold when it comes to dividing funds for teaching excellence.

It is fairly evident among teachers, parents and administrators who the top teachers are and they should receive more money. But it is difficult to create a system to fairly reward them.

The Ogden School district claims it will work with the teacher’s association in devising a formula. That remains to be seen.

The Ogden controversy is a “test case.” Other school districts are sure to take similar actions, and the “take it or leave it” approach will draw majority support.

In the long run, my question is whether a nervous and upset teaching force is really good for schoolchildren.

Learning is more important than getting a pound of flesh and bragging rights.

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