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Centerville's citizens share a modern community library — and Socrates — with their school system, which ranks among the best in South Dakota.
Centerville's citizens share a modern community library — and Socrates — with their school system, which ranks among the best in South Dakota.

Cooperation, Not Competition

Jan 13, 2012

During my first teaching evaluation at Madison High School, my principal, Dennis Germann, said, “There's a difference between being efficient and being effective.”

This morning, I heard our Secretary of Education, Melody Schopp, say on public radio that she's not worried that the merit bonuses proposed by our governor would cause teachers to stop collaborating with each other. The truly great teachers, she said, have never been motivated by monetary rewards.

Both Germann and Schopp recognized that public education doesn't work like a business. (Well, I'm sure my principal didn't; I'm not sure our Secretary has thought through the philosophical contradiction of her boss's plan and her defense thereof.) 

We educators try to do things efficiently, but we don't measure our success in terms of number of students run through the mill each hour. I'm teaching French right now. Instead of constructing a quick computer-scorable multiple-choice test that all of my students could take at the same time, I'm conducting 19 hours of one-on-one interviews to give each student a chance to show me what she's learned.

We don't calculate returns on investment with our students. We teachers sometimes sweat more to help a failing student reach a D than we do to help a B student snag an A. Our constitutional mandate to provide a free and adequate education to all South Dakota children prevents us from cutting loose the less productive bottom percentiles for the sake of dedicating more resources to the most promising GDP generators. 

We don't look at our students as commodities on which we personally can make a profit. Our professional code of ethics forbids us from doing so. We help students not to boost our pay but to enrich our community with young people who can participate not just in the economy but in our democracy, in our culture. 

We teachers collaborate. When the new teacher down the hall needs advice or lesson ideas, we share. We know that another teacher performing better doesn't threaten us; it helps us.

The core values of public education are cooperation and community, not competition. Governor Daugaard's proposed merit bonuses undermine those core values. Kids become commodities. Colleagues become competitors. Public education becomes a rat race.

Teachers don't want that. Parents and kids shouldn't want that. Let your teachers focus on what matters —not beating each other for bonuses, but working together to do right by our kids.

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.


09:53 am - Sat, January 14 2012
dave tunge said:
While Cory and I see many things from a different perspective, I'm totally onboard with his assessment of a bonus plan.
06:53 am - Mon, January 16 2012
Becky said:
I think this entire discussion would only be appropriate if the state was properly funding education to begin with. Otherwise, I believe it really is a slap in the face to our teachers and to all involved in education. Does the governor just want to divert attention away from the fact that are schools are under-funded?
07:08 pm - Mon, January 16 2012
Deanna Stands said:
Thank you, Cory, for writing this!
07:43 am - Tue, January 17 2012
Kathy said:
Beyond creating a rift among colleagues, where does the Governor's plan leave elementary teachers and teachers of subjects other than Math and Science?

DOE's plans for assessment are archaic. When do we address teaching methods and professional development for teachers that does not focus on test scores in themselves, but more on identifying what students are not understanding and retaining?
09:11 am - Tue, January 17 2012
Bernie Hunhoff said:
When the governor was in Yankton on Friday night, he said that we now pay all our teachers as if they are average.

That's not quite the way it is. We now pay all our teachers as if they are the worst in the USA. Yes, teacher salaries here are 51st in the nation.

And I think we all know that they are above average when compared to the nation as a whole. Test scores confirm that, and so would a visit to the classrooms.

Plus superintendents in neighboring states love to recruit from SD.
06:23 pm - Tue, January 17 2012
Pam McGill said:
Why does the governor feel it his right to tell the local school districts how to compensate teachers? This seems to contradict the republican party's mantra of small government and local control.
If the top 20% of the staff is given bonuses based on evaluations and growth in test scores, where does that leave the music teacher who teaches poise and musical appreciation that can last a lifetime? How does the guidance counselor who works diligently helping students apply for scholarships or who listens to a student dealing depression or family problems ever become a part of the 20%?
04:51 am - Wed, January 18 2012
Myrna Hunhoff said:
It seems to me that the secretary of education is contradicting herself when she says that the truly great teachers are not motivated by money, and then makes earning money enticement for being a great teacher.
12:35 pm - Wed, January 18 2012
Bob Condon said:
Becky I believe you hit the nail on the head.
This whole deal is nothing but a ploy the Govenor is using. He knows he will never be able to pass this bill. But when re-election times comes the issue of underfunded schools will come up. He will now be able to say I tried to infuse the system with millions of dallars of bonus money, and it was voted down.
It's truely nothing but a ploy to make him and his office look good.
12:45 pm - Wed, January 18 2012
Paul Nepodal said:
As someone who has moved back to South Dakota from a neighboring state to become an administrator, I find it very disturbing that I now have to make decisions about my staff based on performance in only certain areas or that I now have to "pick" my best and brightest to recieve bonuses. This, after standing in front of my staff and talking about my want/need to be a servant leader to them...that I want to work with them...create unity and build teamwork as a principal. The collaboration that I ask my teachers to have in sharing idea, working together for the best interests of students, etc. has gone out the window with one quick whoosh of the governor's proposal.
When your state has the lowest average salary for teachers IN THE NATION...a simple bonus is not enough. Take this "bonus" money and help our schools get our teachers on schedule with other states or at least, our neighboring states. That will bring in the best and the brightest.. Right now, we should feel lucky to keep the ones we have. The fact that so many stay and don't leave for "greener" pastures is the real testament as to the quality of teacher our schools employ. We have a nice state to live in, which is why I brought my family back, but when divisions start happening, those "nice" areas where friends become family will start to dissolve and the ones that will suffer will not be teachers (they can find another job - a better paying job), but the students who will have to live with what's left over.
08:33 am - Thu, January 19 2012
Maria said:
Why is this all so obvious to us and so hard for others to see? Do you have to teach to understand what the world of education is all about? Education is not a competitive market. We don't want to be part of that world. We are not out to produce a popular product at a low cost but high profit. Educating our children costs money, and not all the 'products' require the same 'cost' in either time nor money. And let's face it, not all the products will turn out the same, no matter what we do, because these products aren't items, their our children! Just like so many other things our government does, we are looking at a half-baked idea here. This needs some more thought, research, and collaboration before we jump in head first. I think our kids, at least, deserve our best efforts here. Our children are NOT a commodity!

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