I Like The Idea Of Merit Pay For Teachers, But . . .


Public school districts that take part in Louisiana’s bid for up to $250 million in federal aid would have to agree to change the way teachers are evaluated, officials said Monday.

The requirement is spelled out in state’s latest draft proposal for a federal contest, which is called “Race to the Top.”

It would link teacher pay to student performance, which is a controversial issue. . . .

In its latest draft, officials of the state Department of Education said in documents released Monday that the most significant reform districts would have to agree to implement would change the way teachers and principals are evaluated for pay, promotion and retention.

Half of that evaluation would focus on the academic achievement of students, the draft says.

That sounds great. Hell, I wish ALL of the evaluation focussed on student achievement. That’s the whole point.

Still, the issue is how to measure student achievement. Surely no one would be naive enough to use class grades. So I’m guessing the measure is the state’s standardized tests. That would be fine for elementary and middle school, where students are tested every year in every subject. In my previous class, for example, I found out every spring whether I had successfully taught the subject when they took the iLEAP test for social studies.

High school, however is a little different. They don’t test every year. In my subject – social studies – they only take one test, and it’s in their junior year. It also covers four subjects: Civics, Free Enterprise, American History and World Geography. What that means is that if you teach World Geography to freshmen, it’ll be two years between the time you teach the subject and when they take the test. Also, they might have as few a fifteen questions on that subject. I seriously doubt this is a very good measure of the teacher’s performance. Hence, I would not want to key salaries to high school performance unless the students took tests in each subject each year.

Even if every class had a test to measure student performance, there’s also the issue of how to measure the teacher’s performance.

You could just create a district wide scale, with levels of salaries keyed to levels of test scores. That, though, seems unfair. Take Caddo Parish as an example. If they did that, every Caddo Magnet teacher would make twice the salary every Fair Park teacher because the students at the former are infinitely more dedicated and intelligent than those at the latter. (Sorry, I’m a realist).  This, of course, would be yet another incentive for teachers to go to the “good” schools, leaving the poor ones behind. In my opinion, it would be better to make the merit pay depend on improvement, rather than an absolute score. Then teachers at the poor schools have just as much chance to succeed as those at the Magnets of the world.

Of course, then the issue is improvement over what? Do you measure how the teacher’s students scored this year against how the teacher’s students scored last year? Or do you measure how the students perform with this teacher against how they scored under the teacher they had in the previous year for that subject; i.e. how this year’s Algebra students did in Geometry the year before? Obviously, neither is ideal. The first option keeps the subject the same but changes the students. The second makes the students constant yet varies the subject. I don’t know. I guess the best way would be to combine the two.

If we could implement merit pay in a way that adequately addresses these concerns, I’d be all for it. Knowing people and especially school administrators, though, I promise you what would actually happen is that they will decide that all teachers will receive merit pay in any school that as a whole increases its scores by a targeted amount. This is the easy administrative thing to do: No need for individualized tests, no need for individualized judging of teachers, just some vague platitudes about teamwork. Easy as it might be to administer, that kind of plan would be a waste of money. The good teachers will work hard and receive a reward, as they would under a properly run merit system. But under the lazy merit system, the average teachers and the slackers would also receive a reward. They’d be freeriders, with no incentive to work harder, meaning the merit pay would fail at its main purpose. So while the idea of rewarding individual performances is something I support wholeheartedly, the groupthink solution that will actually result is something I wholeheartedly oppose.

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2 Comments on “I Like The Idea Of Merit Pay For Teachers, But . . .”

  1. draftsonyou Says:

    How about incentive pay for students? You don’t perform, you don’t get to play x-box or eat little debbies b/c you can’t afford to buy them. It’s just like real life. Or maybe increased welfare payments for parents of students who do good in school. If they’re really smart, you could just quit your job and let Johnny bring home the bacon!

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