The scene in the political cartoon shows a representation of the current state legislature in the form of a fat, geeky-looking individual with a receding hairline and glasses offering an apple core to what appears to be a woman representing the entirety of the teaching profession. There are three distinct aspects of this picture that needed to be taken note of namely: the phrase being stated by the school teacher, the size of the man representing the state legislature, and the apple being offered to the teacher. The phrase “obviously your salary is not based on how successful you are at your job”, is being directed at the man in the photo. When taking into account his overly large size as compared to the teacher, it can be assumed that what the teacher is trying to imply is that the salaries of members of the state legislature are large, however, she also goes on to mention that they are not good at their jobs.
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The apple core is given to the teacher is a representation of her potential salary, which implies that it will be drastically reduced as an of the merit pay bill that the state legislature wants to enact. It must be noted, that the use of an apple in this cartoon is related to the cultural connection between teachers and apples. Beliefs such as giving a teacher an apple or placing an apple on a teacher’s desk are considered generally positive behaviors, since giving a teacher an apple is a sign of thanking her for her hard work. As such apples are considered a form of “bonus” for teachers. In this case, the apple in the cartoon represents a literal bonus for teachers yet as indicated by only the core remaining this implies that should the merit pay bill go into effect the bonuses of teachers will significantly decrease. To a certain degree, it is also generally considered an insult to give teachers apple cores since it represents a claim against their ability to teach properly.
As such, what the cartoon is trying to imply is that members of the state legislature have no idea what it means to subsist on a teacher’s salary. It is implied that they do not understand the realities of the teaching position due to their comfortable jobs, which has made them financially successful however cut off from what the general populace is experiencing. This of course implies a greater issue at hand, that members of the state legislature are so cut off from the experiences of everyday people that their actions result in decisions that are detrimental rather helpful to the populace. This is evidenced by the last part of the phrase stated by the teacher which says “is not based on how successful you are at your job”. This indicates a possible consensus that state legislators are ineffective at what they do due to the resulting negative effects of their decisions. The leering and uncaring look of the man in the photo supports this assumption since a cartoon showing a caring and more connected legislature would not show the type of facial expression that the man is expressing to the teacher.
Agreeing or Disagreeing with the Photo
One cannot help but accept the facts stated in the photo, as being an accurate representation of what will happen to teachers should a merit pay bill go into effect. What state legislators often fail to notice is the fact that the salaries of teachers have not risen in conjunction with the economic cost of living within the country and as a result many teachers often take part-time tutoring jobs to supplement their income. The apple eaten down to its core is an ideal representation of what teacher salaries will look like once such a bill goes into effect within their state. While there are counterarguments to this claim, that state that the reverse is also likely as well with teachers earning more as a result of the performance of students, the fact remains that various similar experiments in the past have shown that merit-based pay systems have proven themselves as being largely ineffective in improving the performance of teachers. What legislators fail to take into account is the fact that the uncontrollable variable, in this case, namely the students in a class, actually propagates the notion for teachers that they should not rely on merit-based systems to incur higher salaries and thus they do not attempt to increase their level of performance. All teachers explicitly understand that students can only be pushed so far in terms of learning and understanding concepts. Push them too much and they will start to dislike the subject and their performance will inevitably drop. The problem with the merit-based bill is the fact that state legislators are in effect encouraging teachers to push their students harder to attain higher test scores.
It is a well-known fact in the teaching profession that improving one’s teaching performance in the class room can only go so far in improving the ability of students to understand certain concepts or lessons. One proven and effective way of actually getting students to understand is to push them to an extent and challenge them, so to speak, through the use of quizzes, exams, and homework for them to better understand the concepts in class. If teachers were to follow the scheme of merit-based pay through student exam scores, they would invariably have to increase the number of work students already do for them to better understand the concepts. The problem with doing so is that it creates the possibility of student burnout for that particular subject and would result in them failing it.
As such most teachers who know what they are doing usually continue to perform at the same rate that they always do. This would of course explain why studies examining the success of merit-based pay systems always seem to indicate a null resort. Teachers, know that there is a certain balance that must be achieved during the learning process. Destroying this balance to achieve higher test scores will create a possible backlash and result in them students failing. On the other hand, there are cases where there have been positive reactions from students who rose to the occasion as a result of teachers attempting to increase test scores by having them learn more content. Such cases though are few and far between and should not be used as a basis for studies involving merit-based pay. As such it makes sense why the teacher in the picture implies that the legislator is not successful at his job since the merit pay bill that he is attempting to push through will very likely result in negative consequences for both students and teachers.
The best example that can be compared to what can be seen in the picture is the current piece of legislation being enacted by Florida which links teacher evaluations to standardized test scores (Vail 5). The one problem with the merit-based pay bill where a student’s scores on a standardized test immediately translate into the rate of a teacher’s salary is the fact that such tests were never meant to gauge the ability of individual teachers (Honawar 16). Each teacher has their particular teaching style which has varied results dependent upon the students in question. Not only that, due to inherent state factors such as the concentration of minorities in certain areas certain teachers employed there will invariably earn less than their peers who are in other states. Logic dictates that these teachers could potentially see better and more financially rewarding opportunities in other states and as such would move there. This creates the possibility of a skewed teacher population in the country where some states have more teachers than what they need, with other states needing more teachers than what they have, yet the teachers themselves would refuse to work in states where they will earn less than in others.
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While it can be assumed that establishing a new nationwide teacher evaluation system using student standardized test scores would prevent teacher populations from shifting dramatically from state to state the fact remains that legislature meant to enable such a process can only be done on the state level. This would result in some states enacting the legislature and losing their teachers to a state that has yet to put it into effect. Of course, once states notice that enacting this particular type of legislature would be counterproductive to their education system they would invariably stop it from going into effect. This would create a situation where some states have legislation in effect and are losing teachers while others are gaining teachers. To avoid a situation such as this from occurring the best possible method would be to create a lump sum salary range for all teachers and have bonuses come through some other means to entice better performance from teachers.
Honawar, Vaishali. “Legislature Votes to Replace Merit-Pay System in Florida.” Education Week 26.29 (2007): 16. EBSCO. Web.
Vail, Kathleen. “Florida adopts merit pay.” American School Board Journal 193.5 (2006): 5. EBSCO. Web.