Merit Pay

Readers beware, hot button topic to be discussed!

Detroit Free Press: Performance Pay

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.


Filed under education, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Merit Pay

  1. I agree with so many of the points you have made! They show that there is an excellent side against this type of pay. If people want to start creating merit pay, I think more than just high level test scores and grades need to be considered. Provided that some sort of money would magically be available to do this, it seems better to give it to teachers who can show improvement in their students, or are willing to experiment with new methods, show that their students exhibit good citizenship, or use a certain amount of technology, or successful in teaching something new. These things would be tough to measure, and therefore to level the playing field for all teachers would be truly something!

    • Thanks for your comments Laura. The establishment and details behind a merit pay system are beyond difficult. I find it extremely hard to mentally wrestle with the idea of not leaving any child behind and at the same time providing more pay to teachers that get better test scores. So is it okay to promote equality to all of our children while also sending the message of superiority/inferiority to the adults?

  2. I have tried to reply a few times, and it does not seem to work.

    I think the above comments are very insightful and show that you have looked quite a bit at this issue. Merit pay will not work they way that these officials are trying to have it work. However, what about changing it so that bonus pay could be offered for teachers who use more technlogy in their classrooms, or try out new methods and styles of teaching? Or what about money for improvement shown? It seems like other factors could work (maybe money could go not to teachers individually, but to their classrooms?) If we weigh too much on this, too many good and potential teachers will not go into education.

  3. Kris Sredich

    Performance Pay is a scary monster. This article points out a variety of reasons why we should not have merit pay. Do our ‘active and worthy’ legislatures get paid more? Do we actually have the opportunity to seek out the doctor who can cure our illnesses by paying the highest fees to him? And, will that payment really cure what ails us?

    What scares me about performance pay is that it is unfair to teachers. Is it fair that an elective, non academic teacher be paid the same as an academic teacher? Should band and gym get more money because they have more students under their charge? Should teachers who prep for standardized tests be paid more for successful test scores and less for poor test scores? Should students AND parents be innocent and blameless for student performance? Should a teacher be punished in pay because a student has poor attendance at school, low motivation and poor skils? Should that teacher feel compelled to go home with the student, tutor the student, call home with reminders, and forgo her own life and children for her pay?

    A dearly loved East China Education who died too soon used to say, “if you plant taters, you get taters.” In some ways, society has planted its own crop of mediocre yield. Answers are easily found for homework by using the internet. Before school, students eagerly copy answers for math problems. Penmanship is unreadable. Typos abound in word processed work. Nobody uses a planner anymore, or a reminder on their phone, for those of you who are techno advanced.

    If parents have high expectations of their children, and model these expectations, the end result should be successful children. Unfortunately, educators see the opposite effects. In education, though, if teachers model high expectations for their students, parents call them “difficult,” “the hard teacher,” “the teacher who does not like my child.” A parent recently told a colleague of mine that “attending class and paying attention should be reason enough to pass English class.” Hmm, bet that parent is for merit pay because the student is not passing and it is the teacher’s fault that the student does not haave passing scores.

    • Great response Kris, thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you on merit pay in other professions. It is very frustrating as an educator to have a different set of standards applied to you than in other professions. Whenever the topic of merit pay comes up the visual image I get is of two people each being provided a set of materials and being asked to produce the same quality product with the catch being that one of the people needs to assemble something great out of rusted parts. The metaphor is not 100% efficient since teachers can do amazing things from low starting points, but it is the visual that I get nonetheless.

  4. Danna

    Merit pay is complete crap! It effects teachers inn EVERY aspect that you mentioned, and one of the most impactful is teachers competing and not collaborating. I cannot imagine what it would be like if I couldn’t rely on other teachers for input on my lessons, student achievement, etc. There is enough drama in schools already between teachers, let alone the cliques and alliances that would form based on competition.
    I DO however, think that there should be incentives for effective teachers. For those teachers that teach ACT or AP courses … they should receive pay based on student achievement on ACT/AP Tests/Etc. How do you determine who gets to teach them? I’m sure teachers would volunteer to and others that would not.

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