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The synthesis essay on the AP Exam asks students to take information from a variety of sources and use it to support an argumentative essay. Students should be sure to make a solid argument and incorporate the evidence into the essay, using sound technique. Be sure to use a mixture of direct quotations and indirect quotations. Cite the source properly each time.

You should take 15 minutes to read the sources and 40 minutes to complete the essay.

Sample Essay: Merit Pay for Teachers

Directions: The following prompt is based on the accompanying six sources. This question requires you to synthesize a variety of sources into a coherent, well written essay. Refer to the sources to support your position; avoid mere paraphrase or summary. Your argument should be central; the sources should support this argument.

Remember to attribute both direct and indirect citations.

Introduction: Every year we hear a call among some people to introduce a concept called merit pay to American schools, but the system is rarely introduced into those schools. Some schools try it for a while, but it is eventually abandoned. Advocates argue that paying the better teachers more than weaker teachers will improve teacher quality, but opponents argue that the system will not work as designed and will be harmful to education.

Assignment: Read the following sources (including any introductory information) carefully. Then, in an essay that synthesizes at least three of the sources for support, take a position that defends, challenges, or qualifies the claim that schools would be improved if teachers were paid on the basis of performance.

You may refer to the sources by their titles (Source A, Source B, etc.) or by the descriptions in parentheses.

Source A (Meyers)
Source B (Schuster and Zingheim)
Source C (Zeller)
Source D (Johnson)
Source E (Ranney)
Source F (Koppel)

Note: With the exception of Schuster and Zingheim, these sources are fictional recreations of actual studies found in other sources. They were created this way in order to condense the findings into a manageable size for this exercise.

Source A: Meyers, Joseph P. “It’s time for Merit Pay.” in Fort Pierce Journal, May 17, 2003. 18.

Ask any student in any school in America, and you will hear the same refrain: some of the teachers in the school are terrible instructors leading boring classes in which students learn little or nothing, while other teachers do an outstanding job of motivating and instructing our children. If this were any other business, those high quality teachers would be bringing home the biggest paychecks, but that is not how it is in America. In America we pay the poor teachers the same as the good ones, or, even worse, we pay them more. The fact is, quality of work is not even a consideration in teaching pay scales, and it is time for that to change.

In almost all school districts today, teachers are paid according to the length of time in the district and the amount of graduate school credit they have accumulated over the years. A poor teacher who hangs on for 30 years, gathering credit in meaningless classes, gets the top pay, while a young, brilliant, hard-working teacher is at the bottom of the scale, despite the fact that he or she is doing twice the job of the teacher with the top pay.

This system started years ago, and it made some sense then. Teacher pay was very uneven, but for reasons that have nothing to do with quality. Specifically, women were paid significantly less then men, on the theory that if they were married, they had husbands who were earning enough money to support the family, and if they were not married, then they only had one mouth to feed. The current teacher pay scale was born to prevent abuses like that by making objective measures—experience and education—the basis for pay.

The idea was good, but experience and education do not guarantee high performance. It is time to put actual performance into play as the determiner of salary. Rewarding teachers by the quality of their performance will increase the job satisfaction for these hard workers and make them want to continue their performance. More importantly, it will motivate the poorer teachers to work harder, learn new skills, or get into another profession where they belong.

Source B: Schuster, Jay R. and Zingheim, Patricia K. The New Pay: Linking Employee and Organizational Performance. New York: Lexington. 1992. 20-21.

U. S. Organizations have not been successful in operationalizing pay-for-performance cultures in very many instances. Several key impediments to paying for performance exist that are important to any discussion of pay and organizational performance. These are as follows:

  • Individual Performance is difficult to evaluate. In the United States, the individualistic pioneering spirit focuses primarily on “toughing it out” as an individual. As a result, organizations have focused on measuring and rewarding individual performance. They have found this difficult to do because, in many instances, success in complex organizations depends upon interdependency and teamwork. The need for people to collaborate and support each other’s efforts has made measuring an individual’s performance difficult and even counterproductive. If an organization needs people to work together to survive, paying only for individual performance may create more of an internally competitive climate than that which is essential for overall success and performance.
  • Managers and supervisors are hesitant to evaluate employee performance. Many American employers and supervisors are more closely allied with the employees under their direction than they are with the goals and expectations of the company. Because of this, they find it very difficult to make performance distinctions for pay purposes if this process results in one employee receiving a larger pay increase than another.
  • Measurement of employee performance is a continuing challenge. American organizations and managers look for the ability to measure individual performance objectively to provide “fair and equitable” feedback to employees…. Because human behavior and performance are not easily quantified, organizations and managers avoid differentiating between levels of performance. Few understand that performance management is a crude art form at best, and that organizations and managers must learn to differentiate on the available measurement tools.

Source C: Zeller, Sandra B. “Report on Merit Pay History” Presented to Towanda School Board, Towanda, Missouri, June 28, 2004. 17.

At this time, there are no schools in this region of the country using a traditional merit pay system. Over the past 20 years, six school districts implemented such systems and then dropped them. The following table shows the history of those efforts and a brief summary of the reasons for dropping the plans.

District Year Implemented Year Dropped Comments
Fort Carson 1984 1988 Low staff morale; difficulty of performance measurement.
Sheridan 1987 1990 Dropped at request of administrative team; difficulty measuring performance.
Pawtuxey 1987 1988 Program never really started; inability to agree on measurable performance indicators.
Fredericksburg 1992 1995 Joint project with Willamette. Developed set of objective performance indicators; too many teachers met measurable performance indicators; district could not afford pay increases.
Willamette 1992 1995 Joint project with Fredericksburg. Developed set of objective performance indicators; too many teachers met measurable performance indicators; district could not afford pay increases.
Johnstown 1999 2003 Independent review indicated program was not achieving goals; very expensive to implement.

Source D: Johnson, Edwin R, ed. “Peter Jacobson” in Lives in Education: Award Winning Teachers Tell their Stories. New York: McMillan. 2003.

I actually had a good time at first in that school. I made a lot of friends, and we seemed to enjoy, in some perverse way, having to deal with that principal. It gave us something to talk about—and laugh about—when we got together. That ended, though, just before my third year in the building.

We had a merit pay system, in which the supposed top teachers in the school got a bonus for being so great. Of course, since our infamous principal was in charge of selecting the recipients, you can be sure greatness had nothing to do with teaching quality. We usually didn’t pay much attention to it—until we found out that one of the teachers in our department, one of the people we hung out with and laughed about the principal with—had gotten merit pay. He was a pretty mediocre teacher who had never used any of the tricks that others used to draw attention to themselves, so we could not figure out any way he could have gotten it—unless he was talking to the principal about what we all were saying about him.

A spy in our midst!

I don’t know if it was true, but the next year was not a good one. Whenever he entered the office, conversations would stop. He was pretty much exiled from all social activities. Did he really sit in the principal’s office and tell him everything that we were saying behind his back in order to win his performance bonus? I have no idea, but the fear that he might have done so destroyed the harmony we used to feel and made him in particular a pariah. The gloom of suspicion hung over the department for the whole next year.

I decided that this was no place for me to develop my career. I wanted to work in a school where we could all work together for the common goal of educating children without all that continual turmoil and suspicion. The principal was fired a couple of years later, but I was long gone by then. I was fortunate enough to find a school with a nurturing atmosphere that allowed me to grow and become the teacher I had always envisioned myself to be.

Source E: Courson, David P. “New Indicators of Teacher Performance” in The Fort Bisbee Journal. April 1, 2005.18.

One aspect of the new state testing system that has not been considered is a happy side effect: we now have a good way to measure teacher performance. Critics of merit pay systems argue—with great justification—that there is no good way to measure teacher performance. In typical merit pay systems, the second rate teachers often get the merit pay, and the top teachers, the ones who truly deserve it, are demoralized and start to perform at a lower level. Thus, traditional merit pay systems actually lower school performance by rewarding the wrong teachers and harming teacher morale. State testing programs give us a solution to that problem by giving us the tool to identify the top performers.

All students are now tested to see how they measure against the state content standards. It will be a simple matter to see which teachers have the top performing students and give them appropriate bonuses as rewards for their excellent results. This perfectly objective measure would leave no room for complaints or loss of morale. The best teachers would be appropriately rewarded, and morale will increase instead of decreasing.

Source F: Franklin, Benjamin F. and Madison, James R. “Characteristics of High Achieving Schools” in Educational Leadership Today. April 2005. 17-36.

Critics may question the schools we selected as “high achieving” in this study, noting that several schools famous for their high test scores and high rates of graduates going on the prestigious universities were omitted, and several schools that have habitually low test scores and low rates of students attending any college at all were included. That is because we used a value added system of appraising school performance.

We analyzed the test scores of the students in their previous grades, and we analyzed the socioeconomic status of the school population. These factors have been shown to be excellent predictors of student performance; you can usually predict with great accuracy how a school will perform on tests if you know this data about the students entering that school. We therefore looked for schools whose performances were better than they should have been, based upon the quality of students entering the system. We looked for schools that had taken the student body they were given and made it better.

We found that in some of the most well-known schools, students actually lost value; that is, based upon the quality of student attending the school, their high test scores should have been even higher. In contrast, some of the lower scoring schools actually had scores much higher than would have been predicted; that is, their test scores should have been even lower than they were.

In summary, our definition of a high achieving school is a school that takes the students it receives and produces results that are higher than would be expected. A school that lost ground with its student body is considered a low achieving school, even if its overall test scores are much higher than other schools.

***There is no specific length requirement but it is supposed to be completed in about 40 minutes so whatever the length is that you can complete in that time (including a beginning, a middle, and an end of course)***

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