President's Corner

Considering All Factors


As I’m writing this column on a beautiful fall day, I glance across my office at a bright green poinsettia I received as a gift last December.


The plant was lush, healthy and absolutely beautiful when I received it. I attended to it throughout the holiday season, moving it around the office so everyone could enjoy it. When the plant began losing leaves after a few months, I considered throwing it away.


But I didn’t. Instead, I placed it on a plant stand and watered it weekly. Within a few months, I noticed new bright green growth and began wondering what it would take to keep this plant alive until the next December.

I had received poinsettias for many years but never kept one alive for a full 12 months. Could I help it thrive and actually bloom for the next holiday season? What would it take for me to reach this self-imposed goal?

As I gaze at the plant today, I am struck by the similarities between my small personal challenge of keeping a plant alive and the tremendous responsibility of educating children. In both cases, the goal is to nurture a living thing so it thrives. In both cases, the expertise, personal motivation and perseverance of the nurturer affect the outcome. In both cases, onlookers may be interested in the progress and results and even offer advice for improvement. And, in both, the subject’s living conditions have a tremendous effect on the final result.

My little plant project is my own contest, but if my paycheck depended on the outcome, I would want to be sure I understood the ultimate goal, the current conditions and the conditions necessary to produce the desired results.

Teachers feel the same way. They nurture children. They bring passion, motivation and expertise to their work. They remain lifelong learners themselves. They grow professionally over time, expanding their skills and knowledge and maturing with the confidence necessary to handle the complex responsibility we have entrusted them with — ensuring all children learn and succeed.

They stay focused on what really matters for children, whether or not we send them a clear message about performance or conflicting public views of what is important. They continue their work in the best of times and the worst of times, and because of them, children grow and thrive.

Teachers are the single most important school-based factor in learning. Yet nonschool factors such as family, health and income levels have a far greater influence on student success. Current research is clear about that, and our unwillingness to address those factors will ultimately prevent us from reaching our goal of ensuring success for every child.

I hope we can provide teachers with the recognition and compensation they deserve for their hard work. I also hope we can do that without making the mistake of simply linking pay to performance regardless of those other conditions over which educators have no control. We must address the fact that almost one in four children in our country lives in poverty and that the impact of those conditions on student learning far outweighs the single influence of a teacher.

Children, like my poinsettia, will not grow and thrive unless we consider all of the conditions that affect their well-being. If the goal is to pay teachers for what they do, that’s one issue. If the goal is to raise student achievement, we must take all factors, such as poverty, into account when we consider pay for performance. Do our districts have enough money to do that? Probably not.

Patricia Neudecker is AASA president for 2011-12. E-mail: