I just settled down to catch up on my google reader and I read this paragraph from The Quick and the Ed's Quick Hits for today:
Teacher pay dependent on parents. Rural districts in Idaho have decided to tie teacher merit pay to parental involvement, specifically their attendance at parent-teacher conferences. State officials required districts to decide the factors from which to base performance bonuses. Up to 70 percent of that pay in these rural districts will rest on the parents. (Associated Press)
Not wanting to jump to hasty conclusions I went ahead and followed the link. It had to be a joke, right? Rewarding teachers lucky enough to already teach the kids who have involved parents? Those teachers already benefit from having a home/school connection, and from teaching children who are growing up in a house that values education.
I really, really hoped the quick paragraph was only a tiny piece of the story.
But it seems to sum it up pretty well-.
High school teachers can earn bonuses if at least 40% of parents come to conferences.
I'm sure looking at this from one side makes it sound like a great idea. Build in an incentive to make teachers get creative and reach out to parents. And it might actually get impressive results from some teachers.
On the other hand, it rewards teachers who teach classes full of students who come from involved house holds and punishes the teachers who work with students whose parents are busy with multiple jobs, or who just don't make education a priority. In many of these cases I am willing to bet that the teachers dealing with the least motivated students and the greatest discipline problems are the same as the teachers who have more no shows at conferences.
I always think you can predict how a teacher's year will go based on the turn out at open house. The class where very few parents show up is likely to be the class with students behind academically, students who act out, and students who just don't care about school. It is not a one to one correlation- not every no-show parent signals a long year, but there is a trend.
The past two years my partner in crime and I did home visits for our students. Too busy to come to conference days? We will come to your house at a time that works for you. No problem.
Do you know what it is like to be stood up at someone's house? Especially when you are pretty sure they are inside- just hiding from you. Knocking on a door, listening to footsteps inside that never answer the door?
There are parents who just do not want to be involved.
I've gone to great lengths to talk to parents who seem to have gone to equal great lengths to not talk to me. I've picked up their baby when they come to pick their child up from kiss and ride- they can't avoid me when I'm holding their 6 month old baby. I've shown up uninvited to birthday parties. I shamelessly snap pictures of their children and give them to them so they see me as someone who loves their kid and is safe to talk to. I've gotten my oil changed at the gas station where they work so we can have our conference while I wait.
And even with all that I can still be unsuccessful. There are parents who just are not interested, or who are just too busy to come to school.
Tying merit pay to whether or not these parents show up is like telling the dog he'll get a treat when he herds the cat.
I like that the school district wants to address parent involvement and I like that they want to encourage teachers to reach out to parents, I just don't think merit pay is the way to do it.