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I agree wholeheartedly about the disincentive to the sharing of ideas and materials that would arise from the competitive atmosphere fostered by a merit pay system. Collaboration and mentoring are the best ways to foster good teaching, but under a merit pay system, why would any sane teacher want to work with or help another teacher?
Tenure does not protect teachers. All tenure does is make the human resource demartment document issues that arrise. If there are enough issues with a teacher, then they can be let go. Tenure is no different than a regular corporations H.R. department.
I spend hundreds of hours developing new and original content for my classroom. These materials are freely shared with other teachers, primarily at my school and within my district. This improves educational opportunities for all students. Merit pay can be a strong disincentive for sharing work with others since sharing reduces the differences in quality between teachers.
The notion of a differential pay scale that is positively related to performance seems admirable. To be rewarded for good work is a cornerstone of many endeavors and our society tends to equate money with success. However, education is a longitudinal process and so various teachers' efforts contribute to the whole. While many successful students can, in retrospect, identify that special teacher who either inspired them or turned them onto the path of success, that is quite a while after the encounter. I would suspect that to tie pay to yearly performance would create a culture where teachers tried to cram as many facts into a student's head to meet (or exceed) test expectations rather than to engender the curiosity necessary for intrinsically driven learning which can take years to "product results" but, I believe, leads to both more authentic learning and more involved students.
I believe a better system would be to pay teachers a professional wage, abolish tenure and reevaluate teachers on a three year cycle (sort of a 3 year average to allow for the inevitable swings with students). By insisting on high expectations for teachers in terms of curriculum development, creative approaches to curriculum delivery to suit particular students and unbiased evaluation techniques, I feel we would create a more effective and responsive educational environment.
I am coming into education from the technology startup arena, where merit pay - through bonuses and the like - is pretty typical. Like teaching, many job responsibilities in a startup are not sharply defined and cross many boundaries. Having managed a large group of technical staff in this environment, I can say that in my experience, contributions like cooperation, mentoring, or extra service figure prominently in an evaluation.
My point is that we have plenty of people in other fields (and certainly in some educational institutions) being evaluated for merit compensation who have amorphous job responsibilities and results, and I'm not sure why teaching has to be any different.
In nearly any profession, if merit is based ONLY a small set of numerical measurements, like test scores, the evaluation will be a skewed measure of performance - it is the lazy manager's method of evaluation. Really good performance evaluation is hard, and it takes time. Nothing replaces hours spent by principals observing teachers, talking to peers and stakeholders (parents, students), and contextualizing numerical data so that they are meaningful. If this overloads principals, then maybe it's time to re-examine the management structure in schools.
The research has been done and is conclusive regarding effective teachers. Harry Wong says it best, "It takes two school years of effective teaching to undo one bad year of ineffective teaching." This makes it clear that definitely a teacher is essential to a student's education no matter if the teacher has the student only one year. The Teacher Advancement Program has embedded in its research design all of the issues and concerns rasied in the very thoughtful comments I just read for and against merit pay. The Teacher Advancement Program is a comprehensive approach to ensuring that EVERY student ends up with an effective teacher. The merit payouts are based upon a teacher's own evaluations and self evaluations as well as school wide standardized performance and individual teachers' classroom performance. All teachers including specials like P.E., ART and electives, special ed. ESL are included in the Teacher Advancment Program because all teachers participate in the weekly cluster meetings where all teachers receive high quality research- based professional development. The Teacher Advancement Program is designed to guarantee that every teacher in the school is a part of the process of guaranteeing effective teachers in every classroom including electives and core subjects. Merit pay helps teachers because even though teachers' base pay has increased over the 25 years that I have been in education, teacher pay still falls significantly below other professions (attorneys, physicans,). Merit pay is an equalizer as we seek to professionalize the job of educating our nation's future leaders by treating educators like the professionals that they are!
I think this is a can of worms. Already, proficient experienced teachers who know how to get results migrate to schools where it's easy to get (measurable) results and away from the schools where the kids have the greatest needs. The 'Merit Pay' issue is based on an industrial analogy that can't be exported whole hog to complex social settings. If kids were lumps of steel that should be rejected from the manufacturing process for imperfections or flaws; if all kids came with the same set of supportive parents who fed them nutritious food and protected them from experiences they're too young for; if all kids had the same talents and educational needs; an if all kids were going to have the same future, you could easily determine the merit for which teachers should get paid. As it is, to do an equitable job of distributing merit pay would involve a huge bureaucracy and expense and lot more time than I have seen that we are willing to devote to any educational initiative in the US.
The strategies for implementing 'Merit Pay' that I have seen are just a thinly disguised promotion of more high-stakes testing--moving emphasis more and more to test results and away from each student as a human being.
My concern with merit pay is the merits on which the pay would be based. Currently, I'm a literacy coach. Prior to this, I taught special ed. For the last five years of my special ed. teaching, I was forced to be an inclusion teacher. I followed a group of students all day. The principal made it clear that my responsibility was modifications. (If he brought visitors to a classroom where I was, he wouldn't even acknowledge me as a teacher.) I didn't get to teach much. I was basically an assistant to teachers, all of whom had less education than I have and most had less experience. One of the teachers I worked with was teaching on a trial certification. In this situation, I wouldn't have gotten any merit pay no matter how stellar the test scores. How would merit pay be determined for teachers of the arts and physical education? With all the concern over childhood obesity, would P.E. teachers be evaluated on the number of students in school who lost weight? What about merit pay in other professional fields? Do accountants get paid based on how much money they save their clients? Are medical doctors paid based on the number of patients they keep alive? Is a lawyer's pay based solely on the cases they win? All of these professions charge their clients. The clients have to pay regardless of the quality of services. Sometimes, the public forgets that we are professional people with the same level of training as accountants, lawyers, and, in some cases, doctors. Teachers should get professional salaries and RESPECT. Save the merit pay for sales people.
Make our classes smaller; give us time... to learn new technology, to learn new curriculum, to learn better ways to teach… to learn (it’s hard to keep up while actively teaching); give us the funds for us to learn these things; make our classes smaller; provide us with the tools we need; ease up on the paperwork; make our classes smaller; treat us with respect; work on improving the communities our children come from; make our classes smaller…
Then, who is going to determine our worth? How will our worth be determined?
I’d rather see the money go to making class sizes smaller!
Why not give merit pay to the students? Base it on amount of improvement students make each year. Students (and parents) in the upper range will be outraged because there isn't much room for improvement so not much merit pay for them. Students in the lower range who are motivated will really reap the benefit because they have the potential for making greater improvement each year.
Another question for the merit pay folks? Shouldn't I already qualify for merit pay because I have chosen to work in a lower socio-economic area 80% of whose student speak another language other than English in the home before they start school? Please walk in my moccasins for a year and see if you don't agree.