Let parents determine teacher merit

Merit pay for teachers won’t work without school choice, argues Cato’s Marie Gryphon in the Orange County Register.

Measuring merit without a competitive market is like landing a plane in a snowstorm without instruments. What makes a teacher good, and who should decide?

. . . Merit inflation is one common problem. Decades of union pay scales and job security have engendered an A-for-effort and cookies for everyone teaching culture. When Texas and Tennessee adopted merit pay, principals insisted that all their teachers were above average, which forced those states to shut down their programs as too expensive.

On the other hand, capping awards would invite administrators to hand out the bonuses to their favorites.

Basing salaries on student scores is problematic too. Rewarding high scores favors teachers in wealthy, well-educated areas; rewarding progress penalizes teachers whose students do so well already there’s little room for improvement. And linking pay to test scores encourages cheating.

Merit pay won’t work in schools as it does in the private sector until parents can take their business elsewhere if they don’t like the quality of teachers, Gryphon writes. If a school has to please its parents, it will pay more to keep the best teachers.

Of course, parents may know who’s the best third grade teacher, but rarely choose to leave a school because their child got Ms. Mediocre instead of Mrs, Ideal.

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  1. The obvious solution is to put the merit pay issue in the hands of the person who’s most likely to be motivated to make the best decisions about which teachers merit bonuses and is in the best position to compare teachers: the principle.

    Of course, the principle requires some motivation to do the best job of handing out bonuses so the principle’s pay is tied to the performance of the school. That way, if the principle decides to play favorites at least the favorites will be good enough teachers not to tank the school’s score and the principle’s bonus.

    None of this is going to happen in a public school district. It puts too much authority in the hands of the principles and would highlight the amount of money that’s going to non-teaching personnel. Every dollar that goes the salary of some administrative functionary is one less dollar that’s available for a higher bonus for the best teacher.

  2. superdestroyer says:


    Haven’t you read about the school systems where being a member of the correct sorority (read Delta Sigma Theta) is more important than being competent. Imagine an elementary where Dr Dwana Williams (ED, Howard) is the principal and then ask yourself who is going to get the merit pay.

  3. Who cares where the teachers come from? The purpose of the education system is to educate. That seems to require teachers so teachers are hired to do the teaching but that doesn’t change the purpose of the system.

    If Dr. Williams is terribly unfair to teachers who aren’t Delta Sigs and the kids are learning then what’s the beef? It’s the public education system not the ed school graduate employment program.

  4. superdestroyer says:


    You missed the point. If a school system goes to a principal based merit system, the corruption would be immense. I believe you would soon see a system where every teacher would be a Delta Sigma Theta graduate of a HBU because they would be the only one to get the merit pay. Everyone one else would quickly figure out that being in the right group would count for more than being a good teacher.

    In addition, in too many cities in the US, the public school system is a jobs program more than a source for academic learning. Just look at the Baltimore City Schools or Washington, DC public schools. If you go on merit, then I would suspect that everyone at Anacostia High School would be rated superior by the principal and would be give a max merit bonus.

  5. Oh, I understood you, supe. But the example you offer is simply a variation on the current system in which accountability is frustrated, delayed and diluted at every turn.

    That doesn’t change anything though. The lack of accountability just shows up in a different way in the current system.

    In your example the problem isn’t that the teachers are accountable to the princpal but that the principal is accountable to no one but herself so she elevates her own preferences from fond fantasies to organizational dictums.

    The lack of accountability in the current education system results in a similar substitution of goals. The people most interested in education, the parents, have little say so the people who do have a great deal of say, school board members, administrators, substitute their preferences for those of parents. Educational fadishness takes on greater importance and credibility because the people who would reject it, the parents, have no influence.

    Here’s my point. A district-based, tax-supported, mandatory-attendance public school system is inherently resistant to the notion of parental accountability. If you want your district-based, tax-supported, mandatory-attendance public school system then you have accept that any measure of accountability will become a prime target for eviseration by the entire establishment. They will tirelessly attack it and, given time, will succeed in eroding the usefulness and value of any accountability measure.

  6. Mike in Texas says:

    Allen wrote:

    the principle requires some motivation to do the best job of handing out bonuses so the principle’s pay is tied to the performance of the school

    Uh, Allen, a principle is something you believe in, a person who is in charge of a school is a principal. To help you remember; if you get lost got to your pal in the office.

  7. Mike in Texas wrote:

    To help you remember; if you get lost got to your pal in the office.

    And in the spirit of your response – I understand President Bush is going to extend the NCLB to high schools.

    I’m sure that any minute now there’ll be a tsunami of parental rage over the prospect of schools having to meet standards.

    Any minute now.