My Letter to the ISJ:
“There he goes again.” Frank VanderSloot’s weekly tirade against teachers in the Idaho State Journal reminds me of Reagan’s mantra. In his latest paid essay, VanderSloot, after comparing teachers to murderers, once again assures us that he has “a great deal of respect for Idaho teachers.” To Mr. VanderSloot, I say this: I don’t sense any respect from you, and I have no respect for you or your positions, none of which are based in educational expertise or knowledge of the research on these issues.
Setting aside Vandersloot’s obvious disdain for educators, VanderSloot simply ignores the research on pay for performance and educational technology. Moreover, he misrepresents the purpose of tenure and its role in guaranteeing teachers due process in the dismissal process.
Regarding technology, Nicholas Carr sounds a warning about society’s use of the Internet in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. In part, Carr discusses how using the Internet affects our ability to develop deep thinking skills, the kind that form multiple synaptic connections and embed into our memories knowledge that we access spontaneously later in life. The Internet, with its abundance of hyperlinks and multiple pages users access, interferes with the deep reading process, unlike traditional reading from a book. This constant movement from one hyperlink to the next disrupts learning and the brain’s ability to form connections among its synapses.
Luna, in contrast, has mandated students take online classes. Offering students options is one thing, but telling a student s/he has no choice but to take two online classes is quite another. I say this as a teacher who embraces technology as a way to support student learning and creativity and who actively seeks ways to incorporate technology into lessons. Unfortunately, neither Luna nor the legislature has supported teachers like me in our uses of technology. Instead, they seek to replace the human connection with a Hal-like computerized substitute.
In fact, the uniform salary scale based on experience and education grew out of a system that loosely defined merit in such a way that men earned more than women and white teachers earned more than minorities. Yet supporting Prop 2 threatens to return us to such systems. Already we have heard stories about ways Idaho districts define merit that have little to do with student achievement in any way. Literature supporting Prop 2 acknowledges the ambiguous and inconsistent standards by which districts will assess merit: “Each school district develops its own plan with local student achievement measures that align with the district’s strategic goals” (“An Explanation of Propositions 1, 2 & 3”). I’m quoting here from pro prop literature delivered to my home. If the goal is to evaluate the merit of teachers, why are there no uniform standards for assessment? Answer: Pay-for-Performance doesn’t work. Rather than encouraging collaboration among teachers, as the aforementioned literature claims, it’s more likely that competition, an unwillingness to share resources, and laying blame, primarily to English and math teachers, will ensue as the system evolves and the inherent problems become more apparent. Simply, we are not all in the same place in our careers, and collaboration that grows organically as teachers voluntarily work with one another will always work better than top-down mandates to collaborate and share resources.
On one point I do agree with Mr. VanderSloot. His weekly essays are “personal message[s]” and not professional ones. In Idaho, only educators have been shut out of the process by which the state regulates our profession; all other state employees have a voice in the laws and procedures that control them. On November 6, please tell Frank VanderSloot that expertise matters, that teachers deserve the same respect afforded other professionals, and that regardless of his personal feelings and missives, next to their parents and families, teachers value students educational success more than he does. Please vote “no” on Props 1, 2, and 3.