Dorchester Debate #1: Education Performance Pay

If you are not at Dorchester you are missing all the fun. If you can’t be there you still can offer your commenst on the hot topics they will be debating. Below are the pro-con of their four debate topics, please feel free to drop us your comment.

Resolved: Subject to uniform standards established under the No Child Left Behind Act, public funding of schools in Oregon shall be tied to student performance.

Until President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLB”) in January, 2002, public school districts, schools and teachers were not accountable to anyone. This lack of accountability led to failing schools, low-achieving students and a public school system that was crumbling before our very eyes. The poorest neighborhoods and communities have had the lowest-achieving schools for years and nothing was being done about it. The so-called “achievement gap” between white children and African-American, Hispanic and American Indian children fostered the soft bigotry of low expectations among many of our nation’s youth. This is all changing under the strong accountability provisions of the NCLB. Schools that fail to perform, as measured by student performance, are forced to take corrective steps and must regularly report to parents on the school’s performance. After five years, studies show that student achievement among all classes of students, and in all academic areas of study, is improving dramatically. While this is encouraging nationally, Oregon’s school system continues to languish behind other states. A recent independent study considering a variety of public education factors revealed that Oregon ranks 40th in the nation in 2006-2007, down two places from the prior school year. A major contributing factor is the Oregon Department of Education’s and the Oregon Education Association’s outright hostility towards implementing rigorous standards and accountability for low-achieving schools and school districts. It is time for Oregon to take a stand. If a public school fails to “make the grade,” then that public school should not be rewarded. New programs should be implemented, low-performing teachers should be terminated, and, in some circumstances, public funding should be re-directed to those schools and school districts that are committed to improving the educational opportunities and performance of their students. In short, no public school student in Oregon should be left behind.


“Accountability in education,” how can anyone argue against that? But it’s not that simple. Supporters of this proposal point to the No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLB”) as a model for school improvement. Closer scrutiny of the Act reveals the flaws in this position. In fact, studies show that this punitive law will, by 2014 when its full effects kick in, label virtually every school in the United States as failing. NCLB has established an increased focus of testing that has taken away from teaching. Teachers in Oregon’s classrooms are now compelled to spend enormous amount of time “teaching to the test” instead of teaching kids fundamental learning skills to last a lifetime. Mandated and scripted teaching programs create substantial tension in the classroom as teachers are prevented from using their professional knowledge and skill to respond to the needs of their students. Moreover, inflexible standardized systems fail to account for kids that learn differently and at different rates for a variety of factors including eating and sleeping habits, socio-economic factors, and others. Even when teachers produce high test results, teachers are penalized if they fail to go higher. Also, student populations change each year but each new class is judged on the successes or failures of the previous classes. The better answer is to provide teachers with the resources and flexibility to maximize student achievement. Rather than pre-packaged programs, teachers need freedom to create curriculum that is related to their children’s lives in their school, and teachers need time, space and resources to teach children rather than test them. We need to listen to teachers and re-examine the blithe claim that we will leave no child behind. Stable funding, teachers rewards instead of punishment, and an open environment where teachers can teach each child based on his or her needs and ability is the best way to assure that no child is, in fact, left behind.