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Merit pay for teachers?

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Dick Whitman, Oct 20, 2010.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Lock this if it is political. I'm not sure if it is or not. I know that it is something politicians battle over, obviously, and will ultimately decide. On the other hand, it seems like a reasonable discussion point that isn't politics as in elections and so forth. Plus, although it's a fairly right-of-center, anti-union idea, it's fairly bipartisan in that both Obama and most Republican politicians support the idea.

    Anyway, Mrs. Whitman is scared to death that our state is about to institute merit pay, i.e. tying state funding for public schools to a merit pay system for the teachers in that school system. The system would be transparent in that parents would be able to track teachers' test score improvement form year to year. Presumably, then, teachers within the same building would be able to get a ballpark idea of what other teachers are making as compared to them.

    I think merit pay has a lot of supporters in the public, because it holds teachers "accountable," allegedly, and therefore will increase student performance. Also, with higher salaries for teachers available, the profession would therefore attract higher quality applicants (Obama's hypothesis).

    On the other hand, teachers rebel against it because they say that this is a profession where everyone needs to pull together within a building and be cooperative and on the same page, and that a zero-sum merit pay system will create enemies within the same building, which is counterproductive for education.

    She started ranting a little bit about how the politicians don't "care about the kids" and she does, and I talked her back down to earth a little bit about how that doesn't matter, and what matters is whether it works or doesn't work and that's the battle ground for arguing this.

    I asked her straight up: "What if it worked? Would you still be against it?"

    She paused for a very long time: "I guess I wouldn't be, no."

    But she doesn't think it would.

    Thoughts? I know we have some teachers on here.
  2. EStreetJoe

    EStreetJoe Well-Known Member

    Merit-based pay has its pros and cons.
    The major pro, as you stated, would be that in theory, the teachers who are able to motivate and teach their students better would be paid better, while the teachers who are just in it for a paycheck and put forth minimal effort would make less money.
    However the flip-side is what is the yardstick for that merit pay. Is it performance on standardized tests? That would mean students would have to take a standardized test every year instead of every few years as is currently the case. It would also mean that teachers spend more time teaching to the test (in hopes of getting the merit bonus) as opposed to teaching kids how to think for themselves or how to learn.
    Is it based on grades? In which case teachers would be giving kids higher grades than they deserve to get the pay.

    The current pay system (at least in NJ) is based purely on seniority. Everyone who has been in a school district (or teaching) for X number of years makes the same salary. Gov. Christie is pushing for a Merit-Based pay system as one of his education reforms. The teacher's union is dead-set against it because it would make things unequal for their members.
  3. mustangj17

    mustangj17 Active Member

    Merit pay is bad news because you could put a teacher in a situation where they do everything right and the kids don't succeed.

    The children could have parents that don't care or other influencing factors that don't help them become stellar students.

    My brother was a teacher in a district where all the kids were farmers. None of the kids cared because they knew they were farmers. Many of the kids had learning disabilities - some were inbred so that didn't help.

    Just not a good situation for a teacher.
  4. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Right, but if the merit is based on how you perform within your building or school system, those kind of factors should be mitigated, right? The inner-city teachers are competing against fellow inner-city teachers. The rural teachers are competing against rural teachers. Neither is competing against deep-pocketed suburban district teachers. Those teachers are competing against each other.
  5. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    To me, teaching is a lot like journalism.

    You have a lot of great, great people doing it because of the nature of the work.

    And you also have a lot of terrible, terrible people doing it because of the pay scale.
  6. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    They tried merit pay in Chicago and the teachers started cheating.
  7. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    As someone with teachers in the family and as someone interested in the possibility of teaching, myself, I would be against merit pay.

    Teachers don't want to compete. They want to make a difference, and they don't/won't feel compelled to do it, or not, on the basis of money.

    There are other ways to hold teachers accountable, just as there are other ways to hold people accountable in any other profession.

    Turning this profession -- one in which caring is the most important attribute -- into a competition on the order of, say, commissioned sales, is a bad idea.

    There are so many variables involved in success or failure that the system would be unfair, detrimental and wrong, even if the best of intentions fuels it.

    Sure, there are good and bad teachers, and good teachers and better ones. Just like with anything else. Also as with anything else, however, any assessment must factor in all the variable individual talents, strengths and weaknesses, all of which potentially may be falsely bolstered or adversely or deceptively impacted by such things as their own and kids' circumstances, class sizes, student/parent demographics, types and influences, aides available, plus a multitude of other contributing forces.

    Under the right leadership -- the principal is absolutely critical here -- teachers at a school really do tend to form a close-knit fraternity that, in a good situation, truly can be centered on and inspired by the kids. And, usually, it is.

    Throwing merit pay beyond what might be earned as a result of a typical annual review/raise serves no purpose other than to engender comparisons of apples to oranges and set people against one another -- in a setting in which that absolutely should not happen.

    Teaching is a calling. It is for people who truly, within themselves, care about kids and want to help them. Most people who go into the profession do not do so for the money. Ergo, the possibility of more money as a result simply of merit pay will not necessarily attract "the best and brightest" to the profession to begin with, as Obama's and others' idea of merit pay seems to hope.

    Now, that's not to say that teachers should not be paid more in starting and progressive base salaries. I absolutely believe they should be, because they work in one of the least-respected (monetarily) professions there is, especially considering the importance of what they do.
  8. cranberry

    cranberry Well-Known Member

    The real danger here is that too many people are buying into the mindset that our education problems will somehow be solved if we can only get those lazy teachers working harder. I've said it a zillion times: Teachers are the heroes, not the problem, within our educational system. We should be spending more time understanding their reality and asking how we can better support their efforts instead of trying to make judgments from afar based on standardized test scores.
  9. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    This. A thousand times, this.
  10. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I'm against merit pay. I'm for accountability.

    I don't think a teacher should be punished because they have the misfortune of having to teach some jerkoff who just sits in class with no desire to learn anything.

    I do think teachers should be punished who just have their class read from the textbook while they sit at their desks and do nothing.

    We had a local teacher who was caught sleeping nine times in a three week period. Every day the class was either reading silently from their texbook or watching a movie. Thanks to the union she was not fired.
  11. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    At my kids' school the best teachers get the kids who are the biggest problems. They willingly take on this challenge because they are very dedicated people. If merit pay based on test scores is introduced, they will be rewarded for this dedication with a pay cut and potential loss of job.

    The other option is to just blindly assign kids to teachers without any consideration for abilities, personalities and learning styles. Theoretically that would make a comparison of test scores fair within a schol. That would also be a horrible thing for the kids.

    But really, who gives a shit about the kids when some anti-tax crusader can make a political point?
  12. cranberry

    cranberry Well-Known Member

    Unions cannot stop districts from firing teachers for just cause. They only require that the district handle it appropriately by offering assistance, then issuing warnings, then building a documented case.

    Who hired this pathetic teacher?
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