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Merit pay will decimate education

Claiming that “good teachers should be rewarded” and “student achievement will increase,” legislators are racing to implement merit-pay plans for educators in K-12 classrooms across the nation. Fed by the Race to the Top criteria and the obvious effect of bonuses on the performance of the nation’s top CEOs, this experiment in merit pay has gained recognition. So, if merit pay will solve the problems in education, on Wall Street and in the Ford showroom, why not use it to solve the problems in politics?

A great experiment in merit pay for politicians could easily be implemented at both the state and national levels either through legislation or through constitutional amendments. Only good public servants deserve taxpayer dollars, and the fact that it is high time for state and federal legislators as well as governors and the president to be accountable to their constituents is rationale enough. All merit pay, of course, derives its value through numbers. Therefore, the performance of elected officials shall be measured on an annual, independently administered survey. Funding for the program will come from the politicians themselves as each will take a salary reduction of 40 percent. Furthermore, only those deemed highly effective by at least 51 percent of at least 90 percent of constituent responses will receive any extra cash. Because salary incentives are tied to a fail-proof mathematical formula for gathering data (i.e., the scientifically constructed and validated constituent survey), elected officials will clearly work harder to please the people and not the party. Those that fail to achieve “highly effective” ratings within the first term shall be forever barred from running for political office again.

Yes, this great experiment in merit pay will surely solve all of the nation’s problems! If this sounds preposterous, that’s because it is. Applying merit pay to force teachers to work harder and students to learn better is about as logical as expecting politicians to legislate better based on cash incentives tied to constituent surveys. Yet, in spite of the recently released results from districts in Tennessee, New York and Chicago indicating that merit pay has not led to higher test scores, legislators continue to pass laws forcing school districts to adopt merit-pay plans that are often impossible to fund.

Experimentation has resulted in many great discoveries and cures, but this one will leave in its wake a decimated system. More importantly, this great experiment will rob the nation’s youth of talented and committed individuals who are unwilling to be guinea pigs in an experiment gone awry.

—Robin Grenz

National Board Certified Teacher

Social studies teacher at Hagerty High School in Oviedo

Check home for hazards

Spring is here and Seminole County Fire Department reminds citizens to think safety during spring cleaning.

Many citizens have an annual spring cleaning day and with proper planning, you can also take the opportunity to check for potentially hazardous conditions around your home.

Identify all hazards.

-Repair frayed or damaged appliance cords, wiring, fuses or breakers.

-Remove piles or vegetation and yard debris from around your home.

-Check for clearance between heating appliances and combustibles.

-Remove toxic cleaners, tools, matches and other household dangers away from children. Properly store flammable items and home chemicals.

-Properly store and mark chemicals, gasoline and flammable items and out of reach of children and pets. Store them in a cool, dry place outside the house.

Check fire protection and safety equipment.

-Check your smoke detector. Replace the battery if needed.

-Check your home fire extinguisher for serviceability and placement.

-Check to make sure your house number is visible for emergency responders to locate.

-Make sure doors and windows aren't blocked in case of fire.

-Make sure you have a flashlight and other emergency supplies in the event of power outages

Place an escape route.

-Sit down with your family and discuss and practice a fire safety plan.

-Make sure you have two ways out of every room.

Seminole County Fire Department asks citizens to take the time this spring to protect your family and your home. A few minutes of safety and prevention can make you and your family safer.

—Lt. Paula Ritchey

Seminole County Fire Department

Creating a home educational environment

There are many ways to encourage children to study and learn at home without force or pain of punishment. The home environment can inhibit or promote learning depending on what is allowed or encouraged to happen.

Below is a list of ways parents can create a home environment that encourages, not inhibits learning. The sooner parents implement these "study enhancers" the sooner these become habitual and expected among learners in the household.

Like any productive environment, the learning environment must be monitored and maintained. Learning is a skill that must be nurtured to become a habit. One of the fastest ways to promote learning in the home is to make learning a family activity. Use the checklist below to help you create a more education-oriented environment at home.

  1. Family study time - Set aside 1 to 1 1/2 hours per afternoon or evening when the whole family spends study time together. This is the time for children to do homework, book reports, projects, study for tests, etc., and a time for parents to read a book, do office work, do home study courses, etc. During this time, there should be no sound — no stereos, TVs, radios, playing, cell phones, etc. Parents and learners must both participate in this activity for family study time to be effective.

  2. Designated study area - Learning is enhanced if this environment is be free of visual and auditory distractions such as souvenirs, stereos, pictures of the trip to the beach, TVs, radios, cell phones, etc.

  3. Make studying a pleasant not alienating experience - Too many families inadvertently make studying at home an alienating experience by using phrases like "go study" or "go do your homework." For some learners, exiling them away from the family to do school work risks associating learning with disaffection or as a cause of repeated separation from the family and its activities. Parents get better results when they say "come study."

  4. Make learning a high priority - It is easy to get involved in the myriad of children's activities available today. Many families have children in sports, clubs, gymnastics, dancing lessons, music lessons, etc. Which activities do you demonstrate as having a higher priority than education in the values of your family? Actions are truly more powerful than words, in this case.

  5. Praise me - Children learn what is expected for them to do by what they are praised for. It is normal that children repeat behavior and attitudes for which they receive praise and approval. If your children do not place importance on schoolwork above other activities, examine how you, as parents, may have communicated through word or action that other activities come first. Do you praise more for prowess at sports, dancing, gymnastics, etc. more than education activities?

  6. I do what you do - Modeling is one of the most powerful teaching tools. Parents who routinely spend time in front of children doing paperwork, studying, making arts and crafts, reading, etc., model what parents regard as important. Parents who regularly watch TV, movies, get involved in household activities, socialize, etc., do the same. It is normal for children to do what parents do. What you do and don’t do as parents teaches, powerfully.

  7. Wanted: good grades. reward offered - Many parents have found that, like adults, children are motivated by rewards. Some parents offer monetary rewards for doing schoolwork each night and for achieving certain grades. It is a good idea to help children learn that productivity leads to rewards and low or no productivity results in few if any rewards. That is the game they will have to know how to play in the work world as an adult.

The vitally important factor here is that the learner selects the rewards and not the parents. What parents believe should be rewarding may not be regarded so by the learner. This is a negotiation process where parents and learners share equal power for it to work effectively.

  1. What are you proud of me for? - Do your children see you take pride in their successes at school? Do you tell your children that you are proud of them when they try or do well at school? Children work hard to win parental praise.

  2. Show, don’t tell - Clearly demonstrate the level of respect and importance you feel for your child’s education by getting involved in PTA and PTS organizations.

—Dennis Congos

Academic Advisor and Learning Skills Specialist

University of Central Florida