Readers beware, hot button topic to be discussed!
Listed below are the thoughts that immediately enter my head when I hear something about pay for performance.
- Structure details not provided: It is easy to provide an idea and then walk away before implementation begins. Articles like this one do not provide the details that are needed in order to put an idea like this into place.
- Fairness in classes assigned: Imagine a situation in which teacher salary were based 90% on performance, with 90% of a teacher’s salary dependent on how well students did in that class according to a state-created test. In this situation, think about the principal that creates the master schedule and assigns teachers to classes. How does this individual determine what teachers get the higher level classes and which ones teach the lower level classes?
- Competition not cooperation among peers: Schools are more than just houses of education, they are places where students learn the intricacies of being a member of society. Schools are scale models of communities. Students are very receptive to what is going on around them and are very quick to note what teachers get along and which do not. In a system based merit pay, competition is advertised as a means increasing student performance. While competition is healthy and is utilized in many professions, it is counter-productive to many of the pillars of a school and sets the wrong message to students about how society co-exists.
- Jealousy and resentment toward top performers leads to uncomfortable work environment: Just like the intelligent student that scores well on every test receives ridicule born out of jealousy from their peers, so does the teacher that out of internal or external drive pushes themselves to be the best
- Lawmakers aren’t paid by performance; many (most) are not: We live in a society where most professions are not paid by their performance. Yes, people in the business world and sales are paid on commission but that is at least in part supplementary to their salary. Not to mention that when you sell a car, there is more money for the company, hence the company can pay more for the employee. Education does not work like that. A student that scores perfect on a state assessment does not bring in more money for the school, allowing the school to pay that teacher a better salary.
- Measurement system would be inexact at best: Like it or not, measuring academic progress and student achievement is not a hard science. Yes, we can use state tests for comparison purposes, but what about the top-level student that knows that they don’t need to try very hard to pass the test. What is the motivation for this student to put forth their best effort? The result of that student’s test is much more important to the school than it is for that student?
- High stakes testing would take on new meaning: The Atlanta Public School testing scandal is a perfect example of what happens when too much emphasis is placed on standardized test scores and the cheating that happened there wasn’t even linked to teacher pay. Add teacher salary into the equation and a corrupt system is bound to develop out of need and greed.
- Will prevent quality individuals from entering work force: The field of education, and critics of education alike, have long lamented about how the best and brightest college students tend to shy away from the profession. The most often pointed to reason behind this is the low starting salary. For a long time the stability of the field fought a good battle against the low entry, but in today’s job climate that stability has gone away. It is going to continue to be extremely difficult to convince the best and brightest to go into teaching with a job field that is unstable, low starting salary, and has a salary that is unreliable from one year to the next.
- Compliance promoted over innovation: Simply put, why would a teacher be experimental with their practice when that experimentation that could lead to great new things could also lead to failure? Pay for performance limits creativity and inhibits teachers from failing forward and working to develop their practice.
- Where would the money come from? Here is the big question. Each year more money is cut from the education budget. In many ways, education has been stripped to the bones. Through the perseverance and determination of great educators we have pushed on and done more with less. Their comes a point at which no more can be stripped away.
For better or for worse, performance (merit) pay is an idea that is catching fire in the public eye. Many parents are beginning to view schools with an a la carte approach and are latching on to the notion that schools have not been doing what they are supposed to be doing. This has led to a lot of ill will directed at education. On the one hand, the focus now being made on improving education is encouraging as it shows the public’s interest is increasing. On the other hand, many people with a loud voice are planting the seed of plans that are not realistic or beneficial to schools. Most of the loudest voices come from the world outside of education and focus on principles being adapted from other economic sectors. Unfortunately, these people have forgotten a lesson they themselves learned in kindergarten, you can’t put a square peg in a round hole. The “cures” for education cannot be found in the business world, they must be created and nurtured by people who are in the know, people in education.