Monday, October 3, 2011

50.4 Million Reasons to Fail

I want my students to fail. I want them to fail miserably, spectacularly and without prejudice. As a matter of fact, I would see their absolute failure as a validation of my excellent skills as an educator, motivator and imparter of culture.

Here's why.

In the last 30 days, three of the country's top chief executive officers were fired from their companies after failing to rouse their sales, stock values or competitiveness. Here's the list, and the compensation packages they received for their failures:

Leo Apotheker, Hewlett-Packard--$13.2 million in cash and stock severance, in addition to a sign-on package worth about $10 million.

Robert P. Kelly-- Bank of New York Mellon, severance worth $17.2 million in cash and stock.

Carol A. Bartz--Yahoo, took home nearly $10 million.

These figures come from the New York Times article, Outsize Severance Continues for Executives, Even After Failed Tenures, and should be a cautionary tale of our troubled economic times. Corporate America pays handsomely for failure.

Things are different in education, though. President Obama and many state governors want to tie both teacher pay and promotion to student performance on standardized tests where, it seems, there is no tolerance for failure. They are saying that if students do not perform to a certain standard, it must be the teacher's fault. Never mind what the child brings to school in terms of their home life, relative wealth or lack thereof, motivation, or whether they had breakfast the day of the test. It's all on the teacher, and failure is not an option.

But as the figures above prove, failure seems to be a rather lucrative option in business. Contradiction? It's the most pointed example of how uncoupled from reality the business community has become. Rewarding failure is a thriving industry. Even school superintendents are given severance packages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars when a Board of Education wants them gone before their contract has expired. Yet classroom educators are to be held accountable and possibly even be docked pay, denied promotion or relieved of their jobs, if enough of their students don't succeed on a test they can't study for and is written with answer choices designed to trip them up.

Don't get me wrong: I have nothing personal against corporate executives who have worked hard in school and business to get where they are. The three people at the top of this article got to their positions because they succeeded in previous jobs. But if a company doesn't make money or improve their products under their watch, then they should not be rewarded. By the same token, teachers, who can empower their students with knowledge and skills that are not readily measurable on a standardized test, should be recognized for their students' progress, even when it results in a step backwards. Children should be encouraged to experiment and even fail at times in order to learn and a teacher should not be blamed or fired because a test doesn't measure the true genius a child possesses.

That's fair, no?

1 comment:

  1. Progress is achieved mainly through failure. Watch any child learn to do even the most basic skills. They work hard to run faster than their older, bigger friends and usually fail. They try to jump rope 100 times and trip at 82. They try again after they catch their breath. They play often and fail often. It isn't bad until school/parents/society trains them to view any stumble as a failure...some kind of horrible thing, apparently. They just didn't know how bad it was to play at something over and over until they succeeded.

    We now seem to have just about everybody involved in looking over childrens' shoulders to see who can be blamed when they stumble. Somebody's got to take the blame for it.