House Speaker Cameron Sexton offered some concerning commentary on school funding ahead of an expected announcement this month on Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed changes to the state’s school funding formula (BEP).
It seems the Speaker is not all that familiar with how schools actually work. The suggestion he makes here is that teachers and schools lack the proper incentive system. That is, schools fail students because there’s no threat of losing money no matter the outcome. This reflects a fairly depressing view of humanity. Further, it suggests that Sexton believes that teachers are currently “holding back” simply because they don’t fear punishment.
If only a punishment-based incentive system were in force, Tennessee teachers in every school system would rapidly accelerate learning, Sexton seems to be saying.
This type of thinking is especially alarming as the state considers revamping the school funding formula. Gov. Lee has promised a “student-centered” approach but has also stopped short of calling for more overall spending.
Here’s an analogy that might help explain the flaw in Sexton’s approach. UT Football has experienced a bit of a resurgence in recent years, but most fans would admit the last decade has been pretty rough. Under Sexton’s approach, the right answer is to offer less resources to the football program and then that will motivate them to get better and thus “earn” better resources. Want 10+ wins each season? Deduct $100,000 from the coach’s pay for each win under 10. Then, when the team only wins 6 or 7 games, take some more cash away so that they’ll be fired up to get after it next season. Maybe if the defense has a really bad game, the next game they could play without helmets? Surely, the proper punishment-based incentive will yield the desired results.
Of course, some have speculated that the whole movement on the part of Lee to change the BEP is really about a backdoor path to school vouchers:
In any event, I’m sure teachers across the state are working hard and polishing off all that knowledge they’ve been holding back thanks to the threat of lost resources made by Sexton. Once the punishment-based BEP formula is in place, I’m sure only good things will happen. In fact, I bet such a system will cause a rapid influx of people into the teaching profession in Tennessee – if only policymakers in previous years had thought of such a plan, Tennessee would be at the top of the nation by now.
Here’s a piece on merit pay that addresses (to some degree) the type of incentive plan Sexton may be envisioning:
And, here’s a piece that makes the argument for an across-the-board increase in school funding:
Finally, a note on the importance of raising teacher pay – not simply as a means of addressing the teacher shortage but also as a key factor in improving student achievement:
When teachers get paid more, students do better. In one study, a 10% increase in teacher pay was estimated to produce a 5 to 10% increase in student performance. Teacher pay also has long-term benefits for students. A 10% increase in per-pupil spending for each of the 12 years of education results in students completing more education, having 7% higher wages, and having a reduced rate of adult poverty. These benefits are even greater for families who are in poverty.
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