Merit Pay for Pundits? (from 4-20-10)

After reading the Orlando Sentinel’s and Mike Thomas’s increasingly opinionated and vituperative columns in support of Senate Bill 6 (now vetoed) and merit pay, I’ve had to ponder how merit pay would work for a newspaper columnist. Thomas and other pundits are very big on “measuring” teachers’ success. How do you “measure” a columnist’s results, I wonder.

Would you look at whether the column improved sales of the newspaper? How do you isolate that result? Many factors influence why people buy or subscribe to a newspaper. Aren’t there too many variables to make it clear what one columnist did for sales. Say you could determine that a columnist did, indeed, improve sales. Does it matter whether the columnist is saying anything valid or merely being sensationalistic and controversial just to score more sales? In the “results only” world favored by the education reformers, the end justifies the means, so only sales would matter, no matter the quality or truthfulness of what the columnist says.

Or we could make merit pay for columnists parallel what it would look like for teachers. We should survey the columnist’s readers and measure how many of them agree with the columnist. If not enough readers agree with the columnist, he has not done his job of convincing he people. His journalistic credentials should be taken away and he should be hurled from the profession. No Reader Left Behind.

Every day teachers not only teach, but try convince resistant learners that learning is worthwhile. I cannot guarantee that my efforts will succeed with every single student any more than a columnist can guarantee that he will get every reader to agree with him. But I keep trying, and I’ll bet more of my students are convinced by my persuasive techniques than are the readers of the average columnist.