Merit Pay Is Here To Stay

Merit pay for teachers is not going away, not anytime soon at least. It may be a fad that will disappear in a few years. We may continue to debate how to implement it or if we should even try for some time.

Most of us can agree that the current mode of pay, tenure/time based, is not the most effective way of paying our teachers. Generation Xers and Generation Ys (Millennials) are less likely to stay in one place or at one company. Serving a lifetime at one place of employment is no longer a goal like it was for previous generations. Living in the same town, state, or region isn’t a given for Gens X and Y. Tenure based pay makes little sense for the upcoming generations. As a Time article states, we’re getting off the ladder.

The discussion of new pay systems for teachers must continue. It is essential we work toward a more efficient system.

As of right now, the best (read only) system proposed has been merit or performance based. This is a subject I’ve taken to heart. Merit pay has been written and discussed here, here, here, here, and here.

The Washington Post and School of Blog have provided us with two more examples of merit pay systems.

Jay Mathews from WaPo critiques Michelle Rhee’s *a cacophany of boos and hisses rises from the crowd* merit pay plans. Mathews and I agree that current hiring and compensation practices are a mess in DC and many other districts nationwide. It keeps talented people from sticking around or joining the teaching force in the first place. Merit pay discussions bring these issues into the light. Rhee’s solution, however, is vague, possibly intentionally so, and flawed.

from Washington Post:

Rhee has proposed paying teachers as much as $135,000 a year based on achievement gains, classroom practices, meeting school goals and choosing high-needs students, as long as they are willing to forgo tenure protection. The chancellor is part of a national movement, backed by some leading policy experts, to create for teachers the same kind of merit pay enjoyed by football players, stock analysts and shoe salesmen.

Now let’s pick this apart. Achievement gains means what? Could it be progress in test scores? High test scores? Graduation rates? Vague measurements such as these are pervasive in Rhee’s plan, as mentioned earlier. Really we need a mix of all things I mentioned, shifting focus where applicable. A high performing school would be expected to maintain that performance etc. Of course, as I mentioned in earlier posts, our methods of measuring student performance are severely flawed. Unless Rhee’s plan includes changes to the standardized testing system I expect a her policies to be a huge failure. More of a bad thing will not suddenly make it good.

Gaging pay on classroom practices and school goals are again far too vague for me. It sounds logical at first glance. We need to give teachers flexibility to teach however is best for them. Grading them on what classroom innovations they use, unless Rhee is more specific I’m guess she is going there, is completely off the rails. As long as students are succeeding, who cares how the teachers do it. This standard will be different for every teacher, so again as long as they are succeeding there is no reason to judge pay in that respect.

Briefly on school goals, there is a danger to set the bar low. We’ve seen this happen with NCLB. We’d need well trained principals to assess these goals and classroom practices. It seems like a lot of work to find out if a teacher’s students are learning.

Then there is the cost. The idea of a $100,000 plus a year teacher. As long as schools still run on tax dollars I don’t see that big a pay rate feasible. Something else would have to be cut. Sports, music, other teachers perhaps. I wouldn’t mind cutting the fat and more efficient spending in schools. In fact it should be a priority. None the less I don’t see many states being to afford such increases.

Mathews points to charter schools as an example of merit pay done right.

from Washington Post:

Charter schools — and some regular public schools with special arrangements — often do better by placing decisions on salary and other matters in the hands of carefully selected and trained principals who know what great teachers do because that was what they once were. They judge teacher talent on classroom technique as well as test scores. They help teachers who are struggling. They praise those who are improving. They reward staffers in ways that make sense for each individual. Paying big bonuses to stars based on a formula decided by a district committee means fewer thoughtful conversations about students and more bitter gossip about adults.

Of course, this approach requires great care in selecting and training the school leader, but what’s wrong with that? The superintendent also must be ready to relieve principals whose schools do not raise achievement. Results will be measured, of course, at least in part by test scores. There is no escape from that. But it will be an assessment of gains, or lack of them, by every child in the school, not just those taught by one teacher in one classroom.

How can anyone disagree with better trained principals? What team can succeed consistently with a poor coach, especially when facing tough challenges? Some principals are of course just too busy to really perform the tasks they should, leading their staff. Fielding calls from parents and discipline can take up a lot of time. Do government schools need a PR person? Probably. Many private schools have someone to fill that need, giving principals more time to observe and coach.

I would like to see this formula charters use for “big bonuses to stars.” Also remember, as Mathews does not, all charters are not created equal.

Julie at School of Blog comments of a merit pay system she thinks works.

from School of Blog:

we’ve found a way to do merit pay that sort of fits with our mission. Only 10% of the pay increase is tied to test scores, and that applies to all teachers, not to any teacher in particular – so it gives us an incentive to work together. The rest is tied to projects that teachers come up with at the beginning of the year.

For example, as a social studies teacher my project might be to design and run a class that utilizes oral history. I write up the proposal. If I’m successful in my stated goals, I get the extra pay bump. Q-Comp even provides some funds for materials for my project (such as tape recorders, etc.).

Teachers at our school who experienced Q-Comp in traditional districts and hated it are excited about doing it this way. It’s cooperative rather than competitive. I’ll keep you posted on whether we get the funding.

This Minnesota merit pay is a step in the right direction. I’d much rather see teachers cooperating toward bonuses rather than competing with each other. Still there is danger of a slacker ridding on the coattails of others. I’d like to know how they combat that. On the flip side of that, it does mitigate some of the disruption factor I mentioned in an earlier post. Now that disruption effect in one class will be spread around the school when combined with all classes.

I like that teachers get funding for classroom projects. Still, setting your own goals is troubling. How keeps an eye on how tough or easy the goals are to reach?

I still think it is not comprehensive enough. Maybe other measures are included, but not mentioned. Do colleagues evaluate each other? Students their teachers? Parents their teachers? Those methods are all valuable in improving schools and should be taken into account.

Keep that debate going people! Thoughts?