Merit Pay For Teachers. A Very Troubling Idea.

An idea that has been tossed back and forth among education reformers for decades is “merit” pay for teachers.  The reasoning is that the more the students in a class learn, the more money their teacher makes.  It is part of the classic “run schools like a business” mantra.  And it is an idea that has been researched time and time again.

As you see in this information from the Economic Policy Institute, “merit” pay (which will probably surface in the next session of the Alabama legislature) is far from being the magic potion that will improve schools and student performance.

A news release from EPI states:

Advocates of this approach base their support on two assumptions: first, that merit pay is long-established and widespread in the private sector, and second, that students’ test scores are a reliable way to gauge how well teachers are doing their jobs. Both assumptions are faulty.

EPI economist Joydeep Roy noted that “Policymakers should probably think twice before they transfer to education the pay system that has helped generate the global financial crisis.” 

One of the chief shortcomings of test-based accountability in education is that it doesn’t take into account the wide variations in student characteristics. Researcher Richard Rothstein says,  “A school with large numbers of low-income children, high residential mobility, great family stress, little literacy support at home, and serious health problems may be a better school even if its test scores are lower than another whose pupils do not have such challenges; similarly for teachers.”

Rothstein add, “In education, most policy makers who now promote performance incentives and accountability, and scholars who analyze them, seem mostly oblivious to the extensive literature in economics and management theory documenting the inevitable corruption of quantitative indicators and the perverse consequences of performance incentives that rely on such indicators. Of course, ignorant of this literature, many proponents of performance incentives are unable to engage in careful deliberation about whether, in particular cases, the benefits are worth the price.”

Stay tuned, this one is going to get interesting.

 

 

 

5 Responses to Merit Pay For Teachers. A Very Troubling Idea.

  1. There are two problems that each teacher will be conserned about if merit pay becomes a standard.
    1. If test scores are going to be an indicatore, what scores will be used? If you use how high a score is then you leave out the gains that a student has made. A student that has raised the scores from a previcous year may be a better indicator of a teachers ability to teach the curriculum. If I already have students that have scored very high then it is difficult to show gain because they are already near the top.
    2. Who is going to decide which students are going to be in my classroom? This will put teacher against teacher if the ability level of my students will determine my pay. Does the pricipal assign students if so to what teacher? Does he assign the top students to his long time pal and leave the more challenging students to the new teacher or the teacher that he wishes to push out of the school? Does the long time tenured teacher get to decide who their students will be? Does the new teacher not have a chance to even prove themselves when given the students that no other teacher wanted?

    Difficult path to start down.

  2. Your points are well made and logical. Unfortunately logic seldom comes into play in the Alabama legislature. Once again, we have some people blindly drinking Jeb Bush’s Kool Aid.

  3. Thank goodness for Rothstein and his comment:

    A school with large numbers of low-income children, high residential mobility, great family stress, little literacy support at home, and serious health problems may be a better school even if its test scores are lower than another whose pupils do not have such challenges; similarly for teachers.

    I have taught in such a school as described above and it was a labor of love for every teacher, child, parent, and community member. It was the best teaching experience of a career spanning over a forty year period. We got to excellent by a focus on children, not on our pay and who was making the most money. I worry about merit pay as a method to detract from all teachers working together to help all children. It takes total focus on children by everyone to support communities labeled by the government as high poverty.

  4. So what’s the true goal behind all this, you think…? Prop up some “metrics” to use in order to justify – what, exactly? Getting rid of some troublesome teachers…? Further weakening AEA? Paving the way for more charter schools to take money away from downtrodden school systems?

    The super-majority we’re suffering under has already shown that they don’t give a rip what anyone thinks about transparency or their accountability. So why bother…? Is it all just cover for upcoming no-bid contracts-to-be?

  5. While it may sound far-fetched, one has to consider that this is just one more effort to harm public schools. So you narrow the focus of teachers, you create stress to try and force as many retirements as possible (almost 10 percent of Alabama teachers are eligible to retire today) and you totally disrupt the climate and culture of many schools. All of this creates more unrest about public schools. All of this is being driven by a national agenda and these bills are being cranked out by Washington think tanks. Our legislative leadership is simply toeing the line.