Merit Pay for Teachers and Other Bad Ideas

Much of what written below was also in a letter to Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam in response to an interview he gave concerning teacher pay. With the idea being floated to give bonuses to teachers whose students pass AP, IB, and CTE tests, the myth of merit pay needs to be revisited.

I do not know of a single instance in public education where merit pay actually has increased student achievement. Yet, many lawmakers (mostly Sen. Skip Stam) not only advocate merit pay, but differential pay based on the willingness “to take on additional tasks” like clubs, coaching, mentor, and chairing of departments. And now there is an item in the latest budget that sets aside $4.9 million for a 2-year pilot to give teachers a $25 or $50 bonus for each student who receives good test scores on AP or IB course tests or CTE tests.

First, look at merit pay as a whole. The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students? Add that to the fact that teachers are teaching more classes and more students than in the past. That alone raises the stakes.

Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. Just look at the formula for the grading of schools still in place. The overreliance on test scores alone shows that a bottom line figure that can be interpreted in many ways stigmatizes schools where real student growth is occurring. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can one say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?

Besides, if the NCGA thinks merit pay is effective, then I would question their willingness to fund that merit pay. Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. One problem with that model was that it pitted teachers against each other. Another problem is that Raleigh decided not to fund it any longer.

That reason alone makes the idea of giving bonuses for the passing of AP, IB, and CTE course tests to individual teachers a terrible idea. It is saying that some test are more important than others. It is saying that some teachers have a harder job than others simply because of the title of the course. There’s more to it than that.

I teach multiple sections of AP English Language and Composition. Some years I have over 150 AP students in my classes. That’s a lot. To say that all of them will have a passing grade on the AP test in May of the school year is ludicrous. The national pass rate is well below 60%. BUT THEY ALL LEARN AND GROW AS WRITERS.

While I may teach a “tough” course, to say that I alone deserve the credit for their passing the test is also ludicrous. So many other teachers in the lives of those students helped to hone the skill set needed to allow them to even be in the class to begin with. History teachers gave them context for a lot of their arguments. Science teachers and math teachers gave them a basis in logical thinking. Other English teachers gave them a foundation for writing well. And that’s just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg.

How would any lawmaker like to be subject to a system of merit pay as a legislator? Since each person in the NCGA does work that effects all of our state, maybe an evaluation should be conducted by people outside of each legislator’s district arbitrarily chosen without input and that legislator’s pay would be dependent on that report. What if those people were registered with another political party who supported LGBT rights?

The argument for differential pay does not hold much water either. It is very hard to quantify what teachers do for the betterment of the school community. On top of teaching more classes and more students now than when I first taught in NC, I serve on committees, perform duties, attend workshops while having to provide sub plans, work on recertification, coach academic teams, sponsor two clubs, chair a fantastic English department, and provide tutoring. Can you honestly put a market value (words you used) on that? Oh, that does not include the hours spent at home grading and planning.

If North Carolina paid teachers on an hourly wage at “market” value, then Raleigh would literally see almost every teacher’s income double, but that would tarnish our reputation for being in the lowest rung of states in compensating teachers. And if market value is something that some want to use as a guideline for teacher pay, then simply look at our teacher salaries in comparison to other states. In that context, we are literally driving the market down.

 

2 thoughts on “Merit Pay for Teachers and Other Bad Ideas

  1. “Since each person in the NCGA does work that effects all of our state, maybe an evaluation should be conducted by people outside of each legislator’s district arbitrarily chosen without input and that legislator’s pay would be dependent on that report. What if those people were registered with another political party who supported LGBT rights?”

    Amen! Yes! Let’s do that!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Holy Sine Die! Dolly Parton and Justin Timberlake Sing a Duet About Outsourcing and Merit Pay While Reading Fifty Shades of Gray and Fahrenheit 451 – Week in Review for June 27 – July 3 | caffeinated rage

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