Constitutionally Right

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Location: Yardley, PA (Bucks County), United States

Monday, December 19, 2011

Vouchers, Merit Pay and Heroes - Philly Burbs

There’s a big movement among my Conservative buddies to bring vouchers and merit pay to our public schools. Vouchers are government payments to a family that can be used to offset private school costs if they opt out of their community’s public school. Merit pay is paying teachers based on performance.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m as Conservative as it gets. I think that Democrats are weak, delusional and generally mean. You will only get my guns from my cold dead hands. And I strongly believe in a federal government so small that it barely exists.
So it would seem odd that I’m not in support of vouchers and merit pay. I’m open-minded so please feel free to set me straight if I’m wrong.
Vouchers seem like another shuffling act of passing the football around gaining no ground whatsoever. Wouldn’t it be better to empower residents than to encourage them to abandon their community? Is it possible that government policies are often the root cause of failures and, if so, would more government policies really solve anything?
My first concern is that using vouchers to leave a community’s public school seeking greener pastures will drain the better talent and leave those behind most in need. The argument is that those children will fail anyway since no one’s looking out for them, but that’s the whole point. What kind of communities are we creating where we don’t look out for one another? We seek government solutions thereby absolving us of our responsibilities. This is the core underlying theme of what’s gone horribly wrong throughout the nation - soliciting government to do what we need to do for ourselves and our neighbors.
My state of Pennsylvania has 500+ public school districts each held to a set of government mandates and teacher union rules. I sat with our newspaper’s Editorial Board interviewing 17 state and federal candidates last time around and the biggest obstacle to any type of reform was the 66 page Pennsylvania State Constitution modified in the 1960’s by lawyers at the Constitutional Convention. They pulled a fast one and I’ll bet that many other states have similar challenges.
The real solution, in my view, is to encourage every single school district to do whatever they like. The state might have basic educational guidelines, but school boards, parents and educators will regain the right to run their own schools however they wish. This may require a Constitutional Convention to restore the various state constitutions to their original form void of obstacles to common sense.
This leads to Merit Pay. I served full-time in the Marine Corps for 4 ½ years and haven’t yet found anyone more competent and thorough than those I served with at any price. Is it possible that some are driven by things other than money like, oh, public service? Good teachers should be well paid and those not embracing excellence terminated.
Those who feel that they’re not paid what they’re worth are free to take their valuable skills where they’re more appreciated. Some communities might give merit pay a whirl, but mandating it from government is just another opportunity for fraud. How will performance be measured and will the merit pay system open up a whole new arena of complication and abuse? Pretty sure it will.
I personally think that a simple “Pass/Fail” structure of annual raises would be the formula and a failure would result in a new job elsewhere. Pursue teaching if you love to teach and pursue sales or something else if you love to make money. You’ll quickly find that making money is almost always directly related to what extent you bring value to others. Putting yourself first usually results in poor business performance. You’ll also find that good teachers make good salespeople. Anyone see the connection?
We live in an unnecessarily complicated world and I believe that vouchers and merit pay for teachers will make it more so. Our kids aren’t numbers and performance from district to district cannot be standardized (but, again, individual districts would be free to implement merit pay if they like).
The answer is to drastically simplify everything, embrace a very high level of efficiency, obliterate the obstacles to reform that are mired in bureaucracy and allow communities to define themselves with minimal state interference and none federal. There’s more than enough money to accomplish anything with if spent correctly by the right people beginning with spending education dollars on education. Teachers, kids and parents deserve the best which will only happen by putting these heroes in charge and not with additional government nonsense.
Of course, making the right changes are a monumental task and many will say that it’s I who’s delusional and overly idealistic. There’s definitely a chance that I’m stupid because I honestly don’t get it, but I’m a firm believer in putting the customer in charge. It’s a formula that works wherever it’s tried and failure is generally the result of government interference and/or political manipulation.
So good luck with all the “merit pay” and “voucher” efforts out there, but I think it’s time for a total overhaul and not a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.


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