No grade yet for teacher merit-pay programs
I am writing to express my concern about the Aug. 27 editorial, "A good mark for teacher merit pay," about a recently implemented pilot program in Denver that might finally prove that financial incentives for teachers do work. What concerned me most about this piece – aside from the flippant tone – was the actual title of the editorial because there is no statistical evidence whatsoever that the merit-pay system in Denver is working. We need to wait for sufficient time to pass before suggesting that such a system is beneficial for students. Ask someone who teaches in the Denver public school system; he or she will tell you that the program was just implemented and that it is too early to tell whether or not the merit-pay system is working.
Of course, it is a possibility that Denver's merit-pay system – with its emphasis on giving teachers who raise test scores more money – would improve student achievement. But then one has to ask oneself, is raising a test score evidence of good teaching? Is it evidence of knowledge gained? The result might be a system where teachers simply teach to the test and do not focus on other elements of education. Is the goal of the American educational system to improve children's test scores or should the educational system focus more on raising children to think critically and be good citizens in this world?
Favoring money over constituents
I admire the intention of the Aug. 28 Opinion article, "The love of power vs. the power of love," about the use of force by government to sway behavior as being inimical to a free society. The opinion piece implies that when elected officials act to fill needs in the broad community, they do it primarily to enjoy personal or institutional power. I believe the motives for government programs that provide basic humanitarian assistance are more in the spirit of love than in the spirit of holding power. With most cases in the US, social, healthcare, and housing assistance are – despite the "love of power" – means to influence government through the power of money.
The love of power and money often win when tax revenues are used directly or indirectly to subsidize giant agribusinesses, oil companies, health insurance companies, drug manufacturers, and auto and military defense industries. Our elected representatives' love for their constituencies is too often trumped by their interest in the big special interests' deep pockets. With greater participation of the "power of love" in the democratic process, the "love of power" would become much less influential.
Mountain View, Calif.
Necessary school supplies
I could definitely relate to the Aug. 29 article, "The technology kids want, versus what they need," about the school supplies children require to succeed in academic settings. The article failed to address the importance of owning graphing calculators. When my son told me he needed a graphing calculator for algebra, I pushed back. I told him that there were many free resources on the Web and that he should learn how to graph the old-fashioned way – using a pencil and graph paper.
I recanted after looking through his textbook and attending parent-teacher night. The textbook contained explicit graphing calculator exercises and his teacher worked math problems using software that projected a graphing-calculator interface onto a screen. I realized that times have changed and I needed to adjust my old-school attitude.
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