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Friday, January 29, 2010

Merit Pay

I don't get it. I don't believe merit pay is possible in education.

My first question would be which teacher was most responsible for the child's success on some test? How do you know it was that teacher? Each child has many teachers in an academic career, which one gets the merit pay? I know from my own experience, I would have had some teachers fired on the spot. Then when I became a teacher, yikes did I get it about that teacher I thought stunk. I also realized the ones I thought were great actually stunk. I remember one thing a teacher told me in ninth grade. I didn't get it until college. Ironically when I went to teach in that school with that teacher, I told him my epiphany. He chuckled and was glad I finally got it. Yeah it took awhile. So is merit pay retroactive?

Another question would be how do we separate degree of success in one class from another when one is an AP class and the other is a recovery class. Improvement for a student with a low grade is far more likely than a student with the high grade. The rubric for determining improvement is going to be impossible. In Carlo Rotella's, Profiles, “Class Warrior,” in The New Yorker, February 1, 2010, p. 24 Steven Rivkin is quoted, "Test scores are very noisy measures of knowledge. It's hard to come up with a model that can define the impact of the teacher separate from the community and family, and the principal may assign the toughest kids to the best teachers, and they'd stop which would be too bad."

Let me provide a personal example. In the early 90's I received two teacher of the year awards. It did not bring me more money, just some prestige and too much animosity from my colleagues. Why was I chosen? Based on what criteria? I couldn't answer these questions. I was as surprised as they were. Somehow I was selected and chosen for no apparent reason. My choice was never discussed with the staff, nor things I did that seemed to warrant these honors explained. My class was a model for technology and if that is the reason for my choice, then so be it. But it did not make me more of a teacher of the year then many of my colleagues and we knew it. What this honor did to me was to ostracize me and eventually drove me from the school in which I taught for eighteen years. What will merit pay do to a staff?

Here is an odious example from Houston that used test scores for bonuses. Look at how they were distributed: teachers on average received $3,606 in bonus pay, and principals, on average, were rewarded with more than $6,000. Higher-level administrators earned an average of $16,157 in bonuses. Why are administrators getting any money? And why so much and more than the teachers? Shouldn't this scale be reversed where teachers get the $16,000 an dhigh level administrators get $3000.? If this is how merit pay will work, we will lose teachers to be administrators who do nothing in the class or for the class. This is outrageous and from Houston. Ron Paige's old hunting grounds. Seems they haven't fixed their problems there at all. One of the teachers who received one of the largest bonuses said, “Basically what I do is what everybody else here at Burbank does,” said the school's top-earning social studies teacher. “We come to school every day well prepared with the necessary resources. We teach vigorously and we expect our students to learn the material. If they show signs of struggling, then we intervene in various ways.”

Merit pay is a terrible idea just as the Wall Street bonus system is bad. It will find teachers vying for the best classes, the students who really need good teaching won't get. Merit pay will further damage the divide between the haves and the have nots. Merit pay will damage the collegiality in a school staff. Merit pay will further the politics in school.

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