Pay legislators on their performance

FLINT – Here’s what I think teachers should tell state lawmakers about their insulting and damaging idea to tie K-12 teacher salaries to student performance:

We will if you will.

Lawmakers would never take that deal, of course. They’re not dumb. They realize that if voters were polled – male or female, white or black, Democrat or Republican, alive or dead – 90 percent would say teachers are far better at their jobs than lawmakers. In fact, if we tied legislative salaries to performance I think you’d see a lot of representatives and senators on food stamps. (How ironic would that be? Republicans would then have to run themselves down.)

Here’s my question about House Bill 4625, which would make student performance a “primary” factor – as opposed to a “significant” factor, which is the current standard – in determining teacher salaries: What does this have to do with kids?

The bill’s backers would probably say that the best teachers deserve the biggest raises, not the worst ones, and that by offering an incentive we’ll get better results.

And that’s true – if you don’t bother to think about it for more than a second. But when you do, a reasonable person would probably end up thinking, “Wait a second, doesn’t that tend to punish teachers with more low-achieving students?”

Um, yes.

“And if the teachers with the best students get the biggest raises, won’t that make good teachers even more reluctant to teach in schools with a higher percentage of challenging kids?”

Again, yes.

“And aren’t those schools and districts that have a higher percentage of challenging kids the ones that need great teachers the most?”

To which I can only say, “Stop with your annoying logic, imaginary reasonable person!”

The bill seems to sorta/kinda address that issue by saying teachers will be evaluated on “student growth” as measured by standardized tests. So you could make the argument, I suppose, that teachers with the worst students have the greatest opportunity to demonstrate more and faster growth. But you could also make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear if only you had some pixie dust.

That’s not to say that a great teacher can’t turn around a classroom of underachievers. In some instances, I’m sure it happens – “Welcome Back, Kotter,” for example. But if you were a teacher, how would you like your pay tied to the likelihood of it happening?

The truth is bad students often stay bad students not because they have bad teachers or crummy schools but because they have lousy or no parents. That doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and say there’s no point in trying.

But it also doesn’t mean we should punish teachers for doing the best they can with what they’re given.

This bill energetically swallows the magic pill theory so common among lawmakers these days that bad students are a teacher’s fault and if they would just get off their lazy butts and do a better job, then all would be well.

If lawmakers pass this bill, maybe we should cut their pay for poor performance.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller by email at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.