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Blog Directory Del's Perspective: Say No to Merit Pay for Teachers

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Say No to Merit Pay for Teachers

Here comes the cure-all for ills suffered under the huge umbrella called education. It's posted everywhere, it's ubiquitous, it's the answer... it's Merit Pay for Teachers. Don't buy this snake oil. At least have a conversation with a teacher before you believe the hype coming out of school superintendent offices nationwide.

First the old chestnut is thrown out on the public square to get our pulse rate up: "Throwing more money at the problem won't solve the problem". The truth of the matter is that we haven't put enough money in education for decades, save for the huge amount that is spend out of the general fund for special education (about 25%). The last huge influx of dollars into common education occurred in the 60s during the race to space. The results were unbelievable and positive.

Second, the anti-ed crowd will shout to the heavens that we need to get rid of bad teachers. I agree, but the average citizen would be stunned at the low percentage of teachers who are doing an unacceptable job. More often than not, educators are placed in positions of which they have little or no skills or training. One simple example could be a beginning teacher who, in need of a job, will be placed in a classroom for special needs children. This teacher may not have a clue as to how to write an appropriate lesson plan for these children. Sadly, these teachers are left to figure out what to do with little or no assistance from h/her fellow teachers or administrators. A really excellent biology teacher may be assigned to teach physics, a subject h/she may not have the skills to teach. It certainly doesn't suggest that this teacher is a bad educator.
As unbelievable as it may sound, a school principal may have a conflict with a teacher over politics, religion, or even sports with (I am not kidding here) the principal looking for ways to "write up" that teacher with a "needs to improve" evaluation. Is this an exaggeration? Absolutely not!

Third, merit pay should be based on the tests performance by their students. The inherent unfairness in this concept is almost too difficult to explain because there are too many scenarios to explain. For example, Mrs. X teaches Honors English while Mr. Z teaches 10th grade English. It doesn't take an I.Q. over the temperature of table water to determine that Mrs. X's students will perform well above Mr Z's students.
What about Ms. Bell and her art class? There isn't a statewide/nationwide test over art. or for that matter physical education, or government, music, etc. Is it fair that Ms. Bell would be denied a pay increase while Mrs. X will probably enjoy a hefty bonus? What about the school librarian or the school nurse?
Speaking of tests, more Americans don't know that the tests never compares , for example, sophomores to sophomores of a given class, region, state, or the nation. Instead, it compares the current a sophomore class to the previous year's aggregate sophomore group.

Lastly, there remains the group who calls for the Arkansas Model for Merit Pay. It is even more bothersome than merit pay on its face. This model calls for a bonus to all of the employees (cooks, janitors, secretaries, and teachers) of a school when that school raises tests scores to a specific level. The idiocy of this plan is to suggests that the secretary or custodian worked as hard as the history teacher to raise the actual scores. Did the football coach truly deserve the same merit pay as the biology teacher who is stressed to the max to improve tests scores.

My real point is that a true conversation is needed the between concerned citizens and the educators. Have you ever noticed that when it comes to complex issues such as this one the principal/administrator is paraded out to "speak for the school" in an effort to muffle the voices of those who are truly and harshly impacted, the teachers.


  1. Merit Pay needs work, but as a teacher myself, I'm not totally against the idea. The cronyism and grudges that go on between administration and teachers is very real, but far too often teachers I've worked with have horrible attitudes towards education, recycling lesson plans year after year, and not evolving with the times. The sad fact is many people I've worked with don't seem to be passionate about their jobs... it's a relatively easy paycheck and the vacations are great. I have been an advocate for what I call "No Teachers Left Behind." This is because I can;t even have an intellectual discourse about educational philosophies with many teachers and teachers in training. This is a bad thing. Merit pay is one way (probably not the best way) to offer an incentive to get good results. The real problem is however, that the benchmarks that are used to gauge student success is so outdated, that it is outright rejected my many students in our facebook, AIM, instant access culture. The 1950s model for education cannot compete with 21st century minds.

  2. Del,

    Good post and I am with Law on this one. Some form of Merit pay is needed. I'm married to a teacher so I do have the inside track. The simple fact is when cuts need to be made, they layoff based on seniority. You may then have a poor teacher who's been there for 25 years making six figures who stays while to keep this person they will fire 3 (maybe good or bad teachers) making 33k per year. As a result, student to teacher ratio suffers. Doesn't make sense.

    I think you have an excellent point with teacher training. Colleges need to step up to the plate with this one and do a better job. I think apprenticeships should come back.

  3. Oh am agreeing with you friend..about your concepts of teaching..The law that you saying is not here everything counts on not a teacher yet and a student now and am from India..

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