Dear readers, if you think I'm spending too much time tearing apart Governor Dennis Daugaard's teacher merit bonus plan, I apologize. But in the words of our Vice-President, Governor Daugaard's plan is "a big f---ing deal!" It's big, it's bad, and it attacks the core values of public educators in a way that even his proposed 10% budget cuts last year did not.
To understand the deep cultural threat, consider South Dakota's Code of Professional Ethics for Teachers. Those rules tell us that educators shall "maintain professional relationships with students without exploitation of a student for personal gain or advantage" [SDAR 24:08:03:01.7]. At no point should I or any of my teaching colleagues be walking into a classroom and thinking, "How can I make some extra money off these kids?"
We teachers are generally good people, but we aren't saints. Offer us all the chance to compete for $5000 by winning a better score than our neighbors on a form our principal fills out, and how can you expect many of us not to think of our students in terms of dollar signs? Dangling these bonuses over our heads and offering them only to the "best" 20% only clouds our vision of the values our professional code of ethics embodies, including, most importantly, a tireless dedication to the inherent worth of every little human being in our charge.
But hey, D.D., if you want to repeal our code of ethics and let us teachers compete tooth and claw for cash, just like they do out in the "free market," then go right ahead. I'm game. But that's what education will become: a game, played for profit, with our children as the pieces.