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March 24, 2009

Merit pay for teachers

The Obama administration is considering merit pay for teachers as part of plan to revamp education (3/11, A-1, “Top teachers should get better pay, Obama urges”).

Consider the teacher facing 25 students who struggle with poverty, living with single parents who hold minimum wage jobs. Consider the constant threat of unsafe neighborhoods. Remove the principal as support. Substitute a “book” in which to record disruptions. Observe emotionally scarred kids quarreling, vying for attention and lacking basic self-discipline. Observe the teachers, haggard from fatigue and frustration.

Over the past 20 years, teachers have been mandated more parental responsibilities. Before these changes, discipline problems were addressed at home. Today the teacher is expected to parent and can be criticized for a student’s lack of self-control.

Often the merit rests in showing up every day, in caring, in the effort to educate so the cycle is broken. The responsibility for molding self-discipline in a child rests with the parents.

Merit pay might work as an incentive, but the protocol has to include teachers who continue to care, especially in circumstances where test scores might not, or cannot, fully reflect the dedication of those educators.

Pat Antonopoulos


KC Educator

Teaching is like building a house. The foundation is laid and then everything else is built incrementally in layers on top of it. The structural integrity of each level of the house is dependent on how well each of the previous levels were built. If the contractor plans are faulty, or the foundation was laid in a rain storm or when it was too cold, or he scrimped on the quality of the building material in order to save money, the workers will be at a disadvantage to build that house to the same quality standards as the workers that worked for a competent contractor. In this scenario contractors would be held accountable for not meeting the standards of the industry, not the individual construction worker, and there would be no discussion of the pay of the construction worker being based on the quality of the house compared to some arbitrary standard of the industry.

Students do not come to school at an equal starting point. Parental involvement, the amount of resources available to the children and their ability to learn factor into their baseline (their foundation) when they begin school. Teachers do not control which students are assigned to them. The merit pay systems that have been proposed make it more likely for teachers that are assigned students that are already at a level that meets or exceeds the arbitrary standard of the grade level of the student, who does little more than maintains the students at that level, than the teachers in disadvantaged schools whose children showed tremendous gains, but fell short of the arbitrary standards because their students started so far behind those standards in the first place.

The problem with pay in education has nothing to do with merit. The pay of teachers is so low that the best and the brightest are attracted to other professions that compensate them better. Furthermore, the teachers that make the most money are teachers that teach in more affluent suburban districts in which the need for the superior teacher is not as great. The poor urban and rural districts, whose children start at a disadvantage, pay the least. If we truly want to use pay as a teaching incentive then what needs to be done is for the country to invest more into the salaries of teachers and change the structure to where the teachers in the poor rural and urban settings receive the highest salaries. If this would happen we would not only attract the best and brightest candidates to the field, we would also attract them to the schools with the most need.

By the way, the five top educationally performing states in this country all have the guaranteed right to collective bargaining. Four of the five lowest performing states make it illegal for teachers to form unions. The average score for standardized college placement tests is higher in the states that allow teachers unions. It would seem that teachers unions are good for children.


"Consider the teacher facing 25 students who struggle with poverty, living with single parents who hold minimum wage jobs."

SO? Deal with it. If being a single parent is so damn tough then saty or get married rather than leverage marital status for victimization and excuses. If this is the case then why do family courts PUT people in these positions? Once money and power became the core reasoning behind parenting and government extortion, the collapse has been consistent. Married parents of all levels of incomes have similar issues with children, it really comes down to parenting not public schools being babysitters. Then you throw in the component of public advocacy of promiscuity and there you have the formula for welfare, dysfunction and victimology.

Keith Williams3

Teachers; well I say teachers need more money but with that said there's needs to be a extensive back ground check into the progress they have made. This may be the case more so in the urban core; I am a product of a good parent but if had no good mother, I would have been in special education because the teachers didn't care the district didn't care and the students didn't care.

This can be come a disaster due to fairness but its worth pursuing.


"...but the protocol has to include teachers who continue to care, especially in circumstances where test scores might not, or cannot, fully reflect the dedication of those educators."

Now you want merit pay for those teachers whose performance objectives (student scores) aren't met, because their jobs are difficult? In your scenario, I'd say it should be called "across the board raises" and not "merit pay", since it seems that every well-intentioned educator would qualify.

Obama's merit pay suggestion seems to be a reasonable compromise in a situation where teachers unions (whose focus is to look out for member teachers, not students) have long opposed any sort of performance-based compensation. Now we're seeing calls that it's not fair to limit merit pay to those teachers whose students actually succeed. Where will it end?

That's the REAL issue in my mind. Either, as you suggest, some kids can't be taught (which I don't believe), or it takes exceptional educators (and not just good intentions) to overcome the societal issues these kids face and produce good students. Merit pay, as a concept, is not meant to reward "good intentions", but to encourage those who have the exceptional ability to teach challenged students to excel.

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