My Take on Merit Pay

It has been in the news lately. It’s a hot topic in many states, as well as in mine, here in Ohio. I will be blunt: I feel that merit pay or incentive pay will not work or should not be in education. Let me explain a few points to clarify why I believe that.

Merit Pay can be biased. If  you and your principal are at odds with each other you may be stacked with a lot of unruly students that normally would have been distributed throughout that particular grade level. On the other hand, you may be the “principal’s pet” and get all of the “good students” that are all high performing that raising test scores may not be that much of a challenge. There are multiple scenarios about this that could play out.

Student performance isn’t consistent. A teacher shouldn’t be judged by the test scores of students from based on a test they took. There are a lot of different factors that come into play such as students are not feeling well, or family issues may be weighing them down. Sometimes students put too much pressure on themselves and they don’t do well. But, whatever the scenario may be if your pay in based on the performance of students on a single test on a given day just doesn’t seem right.

Comparing scores from different classes to me isn’t comparing apples to apples. It’s more like apples and oranges. I don’t think it is fair to compare the test scores of this year’s 8th grade with last year’s 8th grade. They are two different groups. Their scores should be compared with their scores from the previous year to see how they improved. I don’t disagree with the fact we need to shoot for some goals, and a great way to do that is to point out what the previous year’s students have done. We just shouldn’t base their goals on the performance of other students from the previous year.

Merit pay isn’t the same for everyone. Once money is being tossed into the mix of education everyone wants a piece of it. But is there any real chance of that happening? For example, the special education teachers, gifted intervention specialists, and the title 1 teachers don’t teach a particular subject like the core teachers. Since their number of students are mandated to be lower would their merit pay be less? How much is a student with severe learning disabilities going to improve compared to that of a average learner? Are the two compared equally? Studies are showing that one of the largest groups not meeting the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) is gifted students. Teachers are focusing on the middle of the pack or near the lower middle to help these students meet AYP.

Some other thoughts…

Now, those are my thoughts, and not the thoughts of others. I also need to say that I believe our education system needs to be improved. I feel that we may not really improve until we have parents and teachers working together for the betterment of our students and children. Right now I feel that parents and teachers work together sometimes, or in small spurts, bit not for the long haul. In my opinion there is a lot of distrust on both sides that has to be cleared up before any real long term progress will happen.

I hear a lot about merit pay for teachers, but where is the merit pay for administrators? How much would the argument change when administration is added in? Administration is a key component of education. They set the course for the school, administer discipline, and for most cases set the climate for the building. If classroom teachers are to be under a merit pay shouldn’t the administration from the principal on up to the superintendent?  Or even better yet, what if we based their pay on the test scores of the school or district? If the school or district under performs shouldn’t the principal get underpaid? If the school or district is improving shouldn’t they compensated for that?

What if we look at the third leg of this stool: the parents. What if parents were taxed for not showing up to parent-teacher conferences? What if parents were taxed because their student didn’t meet AYP? On the other side what if parents got an extra tax credit if their children made better grades and met AYP?

We need to change our education system. I don’t have the answers, but I feel throwing money into the mix isn’t always the answer. I think we need to look at:

  • teacher preparation at colleges and universities
  • teacher to student ratios
  • professional development given by the schools and the state
  • partnerships with teachers and parents; and with the community
  • recruiting teachers to help struggling teachers
  • Giving parents refreshers in the core subjects so they can help tutor their children
  • parenting classes for parents who had their children young
  • connecting struggling families with social and educational services in the community
  • continuing after school programs for struggling students
  • Internships for students who want to go into particular fields of interest

There are many different things that can be done. We just need to be creative.


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