Merit pay is coming

Merit pay is coming to education, writes Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Merit pay can be structured to be fair to teachers with disadvantaged students and to reflect multiple measures of excellence. Programs may reward all teachers or focus on teachers of the most critical subjects. There’s no need to make teachers compete against each other.

At the heart of the debate is whether education is fundamentally different from other professions. Lawyers, doctors, and even university professors, aren’t simply paid based on years of experience and the credential they hold, as teachers are. These professionals all operate under merit pay systems of various types that recognize and reward excellence while punishing sloth. And however imperfectly these merit pay compensation systems truly identify merit, we have good reason to believe that they motivate people to perform better.

It’s funny to hear unions argue that their members aren’t motivated by money.

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  1. Miller Smith says:

    A doctor or lawyer can fire a client. A doctor or lawyer determine which clients they can take and tell the client what the price will be. This is not true for teachers.

    If a student (or students) refuse to study and do well just to mess with a teacher’s merit pay, will the teacher have a legal cause of action against the students?

  2. I find myself agreeing with Miller. How about “peremptory challenges” for three students or, if more, up to 10% of the students in the class? Let’s also extend that to the students so that, during the first three weeks of class, up to 10% of the students (first come, first served) get to opt to be switched to another class.

    Allowing changes after the first three weeks would probably be too disruptive. But a “drop/add” period for K-12 modeled after similar periods in colleges seems eminently sensible.

  3. For a tutor the “fire the client” approach would work but for a teacher in a school it’d be problematical.

    I don’t think nihilistic students represent as much of a danger to a teacher’s merit pay as does a lousy teacher who might undermine the good teacher’s efforts. Granted, the lousy teacher won’t get the merit pay but the harm has been done to the students who, after all, are the focus of the process.

    If the lousy teacher is perfectly satisfied to get just their base pay and make up for the lack of merit pay by whining then they’ll also continue to undo the good work done by the good teachers.

    If merit pay doesn’t have some mechanism for easing or booting the lousy teachers out of teaching then only half the job is done. Since it’s easier to tear down then to build up, merit pay address the less important half of the job.

  4. Wayne Martin says:

    > If a student (or students) refuse to study
    > and do well just to mess with a teacher’s
    > merit pay, will the teacher have a legal
    > cause of action against the students?

    Hmmm .. Teacher merit pay should not be seen as an entitlement.

  5. Okay, now the concept that a significant proportion (ie more than one) student will CHOOSE to do poorly JUST to mess with a teacher’s pay, is a very interesting one. For an entire year?

    If a teacher actually believed that that was occurring, I would suggest professional counseling. I would also transfer my child out of that teacher’s class in a heartbeat, because there is some kind of personality disorder or other clinical problem with that teacher’s head.

  6. It’s just a red herring.

    The notion that a student would deliberately do poorly to pull down a teacher’s merit pay is fodder for a cheesy made-for-TV movie. Not that something like that is impossible but it would occur so uncommonly as to be noteworthy.

    The bigger and more credible problem is the effect of lousy teachers on a merit pay plan. If there’s no way to get rid of them, they’ll continue to do what they’ve always done, be lousy, but now they’ll also be cutting the merit bonuses of the better teachers.

    Not only does a good teacher have to be a good teacher, they have to be good enough to undo the damage of the lousy teachers before they see a merit bonus. That’s an awful lot to ask of anyone.