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Merit Pay or the ways we devalue education

Instead of pay raises awarded on the basis of education credits and years of experience – long a hallmark of teachers union salary structures – Superintendent Daryl Herrick said the district wanted to distribute annual bonuses to teachers based on the quality of their work.

http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/school-districts-move-toward-merit-pay-for-teachers-7i3d1bj-135420808.html

In Wisconsin, there has been a bigger push to adopt merit pay ever since Scott Walker limited the collective bargaining rights for teacher unions.  Merit pay sounds like a good idea in concept, especially to those in the business world, but most teachers know that it is a crock.  In theory, merit pay, would work in a way that you determine the quality of the teacher and reward them based on that quality.  This brings about many problems.  The biggest of which is how do you determine the quality of teachers? This has been a widely debated topic in many of the recent educational reform debates.  Should we measure based solely on standardized tests? This would result in more teaching to the tests, a narrowing of curriculum, and most likely cheating to ensure the bonuses as we have seen in Atlanta and DC.

The idea being proposed around these areas is teachers will be judged on the basis of their students test scores on the state tests and other measurements. There are some glaring problems with this.  One, the students are all at different levels.  If you can improve the scores of a student who is failing, but the scores of a gifted student stays about the same, what does this mean?  You did really well with the failing students, but failed the gifted student? Say during the school year the students parents are getting divorced or they lose a family member or friend and this affects their school performance, does this mean that the teacher is bad? Measurements on test fluctuate because of many different reasons.  Sometimes it is the teacher and sometimes it is not.  For the most part the students who do the best on these tests come from high income areas and their socio-economic background has a major effect on them.

Another quick point, those other measurements like being evaluated by a superior leads to a hierarchy system in the schools that is unhealthy and dissuades constructive criticism. How can I disagree, with a person who controls the amount of money I might get this year?

Ok continuing two, how do you prevent teachers from setting the initial standards low and then be able to show great improvements by giving easy tests and focusing solely on the content that will be on that test.  Most people agree the teaching to the test aspects of NCLB was one of its first features. Third, I only get to see the student for an hour a day and you’re going to base performance pay on that? It is not only the time in my classroom that matters, but more importantly the time outside of the classroom that students use to work on my class that matters.  Is anybody going to propose a evaluation system for parents, who spend more time with the students? No, of course not, that is a ridiculous idea.  Fourth, the district where this is being proposed is one of the richest areas in Wisconsin, but spends very little on teacher pay.  If you want to attract good teachers you should pay them well in the first place. This will make the district more attractive.  Fifth, how are you going to figure out the quality of your art, music, gym teachers? Don’t they deserve opportunities at higher pay? Can they be good teachers as well?

What are the benefits? Short term raises in test scores at most.  Sacrificing the values behind teaching, at worst.

The business model approach to schooling does not work.  I did not become a teacher to get students jobs.  I teach because I want to provide for a well rounded foundation based in critical thought and democratic engagement that prepares them to decide what they are going to do with their lives. Economic benefits of school are a side product, not the main purpose.  Students are not products and I’m not a copy machine.  I do not want to create carbon copies of students that will fit in the the business world.  I want to give students the tools that they will need to navigate and figure out the world for themselves.

Besides good teachers don’t care about bonuses.  They care about helping students.  Linda-Darling Hammond writes:

Merit pay that singles out individual teachers for annual bonuses has been especially problematic: It creates temporary rewards that do little for long-term salaries or retention, and has been found to be demotivating to most teachers–both to those who fail to receive it and to those who receive it one year and not the next.  Many teachers report feeling insulted by the idea that they would only work hard for children in the face of what they see as a bribe.  By encouraging competition rather than collaboration, individual merit pay bonuses do little to improve teachers’ collective knowledge and skills, even potentially reducing learning by discouraging sharing of ideas, lessons, and materials.

The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future by Linda Darling-Hammond p. 318

It’s insult that you think the only thing that is holding back my teaching ability is the lack of a bonus system. Merit pay just brings in a form of competition into the schools that doesn’t promote collaboration, but competition.  And when we use students as pawns in a game to gain more money, the students will always lose.

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