Merit pay idea sells teachers short

The (comments attributed to me in) Independent’s Sept. 3 editorial (“Merit pay worth talking about for SK teachers”) were based on a quick “would you make a comment” request that lasted less than five minutes.

I do represent teachers in South Kitsap School District but to assume that I am “simply parroting the union line” is a disservice to their collective professional opinion about merit pay.

Merit pay as proposed by the editorial also disrespects their collective professional contribution to each student’s education.

The author proposes giving merit pay to teachers who get exceptional results.

The fact that a senior in high school scored well on a science test is due to the collective contribution of his elementary teachers who taught him how to read, his junior high science teachers who taught him science fundamentals and all of the teachers who taught the math skills necessary for demonstrating science achievement.

If the student didn’t speak English or needed Special Education services or availed themselves of school counselors, those educators also contributed to the student’s eventual success on that science test.

To award merit pay to the teacher he happened to have when he took the science test ignores the scaffolding of learning that took place to reach that point.

The author also proposes to award teachers who “specialize in difficult subjects like science and math more money than those who don’t.”

I challenge the author to spend a day teaching kindergarten to fully understand difficult teaching. I’d like him to try working in any self-contained Special Education classroom to appreciate what a difficult subject is.

The misconception that the specialized teaching of math and science deserves merit pay ignores the reality that those subjects are also taught in our elementary classrooms by teachers who teach those subjects along with every other content expected at their grade level.

The teachers in South Kitsap are dedicated professionals who work far beyond the contracted hours in meeting needs of our students.

Of the teachers in South Kitsap School District, 81.7 percent have earned master’s degrees, while other teachers are either working on their professional certification (a one- to two-year process) or the National Board Certification.

Fifty of our teachers have already earned their National Board Certification. One-hundred five of our teachers spent a week of their vacation in classes in Seattle working with teams on Response to Intervention strategies.

Many other teachers spent their summer vacation taking other classes, studying new curricula and planning for the next school year.

Perhaps you have not noticed the many cars at all the schools this past month. Many of those were teachers setting up their classrooms for the school year.

SK held a leadership training day on Aug. 24 with 75 teachers participating.

Another 122 teachers attended the summer institute Aug. 25 and 26.

Those days were worked without pay.

And finally, for the record, the author claims that three school districts including Central Kitsap pay merit pay to math and science teachers.

Central Kitsap has never offered merit pay for those content areas. Instead, Central Kitsap, like most districts in the state, was able to offer two extra paid days of professional development for its math and science teachers for a few years because the Legislature funded additional training days to improve the teaching of math and science.

Those days have been cut in the state budget along with all state funded professional development.

You want to reward teachers who get exceptional results or teach difficult subjects more money?

Reward by funding professional development for all teachers.

Judy Arbogast is a teacher and representative of the South Kitsap Education Association.

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