I read Lindsey Field’s report in the MDJ last week that the Cobb County Board of Education — yes, it again — is considering a plan to pay Cobb’s public school teachers based on performance.
Naturally, school teachers are a bit wary of the proposed scheme, as well they should be. Nobody — including other school teachers — object to having high performers paid more than those who don’t cut the mustard. The problem becomes how much control teachers have over the environment in which they perform? If a school is plagued by apathetic parents or a high turnover in transient students, will the new performance-based pay system take that into account?
Where there is evidence of drug use or gang activity, will that somehow be factored into what teachers are paid? If a teacher spends more time filling out reports to satisfy the latest make-work idea emanating from the central office than in trying to teach their young charges the difference between microbes and macrame, does that buy them some wiggle room in how their performance will be judged?
How do we factor in publicity-seeking legislators who send their own children to Christian schools or private schools or homeschool them and then posture and preen over the evils of Common Core because (a) it scores political points; (b) it won’t affect their own kids’ education one whit; and (c) it leaves public school teachers waiting for somebody to tell them what they can teach and how. Will the pay-for-performance experts take that into account?
A group of Cobb County school teachers asked just those kinds of questions of a subcommittee of the Cobb School Board last week. One teacher correctly noted in Field’s article that the Cobb school system doesn’t seem to stick with a curriculum or a school calendar for very long. No kidding. So how do we know that pay-for-performance isn’t the latest education fad that will come and go?
Not to worry, said the CCSB subcommittee composed of board Chair Randy Scamihorn, Tim Stultz and David Morgan. There is much work yet to be done before the final decision is made. In fact, said Morgan, “It would be unrealistic to ‘prediagnosticate’ when we would implement this.” I can just hear the sigh of relief from educators at the news — and then a rush to their dictionaries to find out what “prediagnosticate” means.
I checked in with my friends Messrs. Funk and Wagnall. They didn’t have a clue. They said they had even consulted with Noah Webster and his sister, Merriam. Funk said that he is familiar with the term “diagnose,” which means “an act of identifying a disease from its signs and symptoms,” and that those who did that were “diagnosticians.” We all agreed that “pre” means “before,” so one could perhaps “pre-diagnose,” as in figuring out that we have the hiccups and not heat rash before heading to the doctor’s office.
But, I asked, what about “prediagnosticate”?
“I know the answer to that one,” exclaimed Wagnall, “That is what a cow does after it eats grass.” Leave it to Wagnall to: 1. Annoy, pester; vex. 2. To make fun of; mock playfully.
Realizing I wasn’t going to get an answer from Funk, Wagnall, Webster or his sister, Merriam, I went elsewhere for edification. After all, if the Cobb School Board is indeed serious about paying teachers for performance, then teachers need to be careful not to unrealistically prediagnosticate. That only seems fair.
The smartest man I’ve ever heard of is Albert Einstein. I figured if anybody would know about what can happen if you prediagnosticate unrealistically, he would. After all, he discovered the theory of relativity and you have to be pretty smart to do something like that.
Imagine my shock to see this quote attributed to Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Whoa. Does that mean if Albert Einstein was trying to sell the merits of performance-based pay in Cobb County, he would have told the teachers to not worry and most of all, don’t prediagnosticate? It also makes me wonder if the Cobb County school board understands what they are proposing well enough to explain it to school teachers and gain their trust without resorting to jaw-braking words.
There is no question that this is a major change being proposed in how we compensate our public school teachers in Cobb County and it needs to be carefully considered.
I don’t know about you, but I think the last thing this debate needs is a sesquipedalian.
Even Funk and Wagnall would agree with that.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.