Spend money like it matters

Spend Money Like It Matters, writes Rick Hess in Educational Leadership. Specifically, we need to spend money to “attract, retain and make full use of talented educators.”

Question: Do you think that employees who are good at their work ought to be rewarded, recognized, and have the chance to step up into new opportunities and responsibilities? I do. If you’re with me on this, you embrace the principle of merit pay — whether you know it or not.

. . . I don’t imagine that paying bonuses for bumps in test scores, as though we were compensating traveling encyclopedia salesmen in the 1950s, is going to improve teaching or learning. And I don’t think that value-added calculations are themselves a comprehensive or reliable measure of teacher quality, even in grades where we can calculate such numbers with a reasonable degree of statistical accuracy. But money and metrics are invaluable tools in shaping a 21st century teaching profession.

Many merit-pay proposals foolishly try to “slather some test-based bonuses atop existing pay scales,” Hess writes. We need to rethink teacher pay to “help make employees feel valued, make the teaching profession more attractive to potential entrants, and signal that professional norms are displacing those of the industrial model.”

Merit pay, done right, will improve productivity, which schools no longer can afford to ignore. (See Productivity or the poorhouse.)

One-size-fits-all compensation means that we’re either paying the most effective employees too little, paying their less effective colleagues too much, or, most times, a little of each. In a world of scarce talent and limited resources, this is a problem.

A quick fix won’t work for teacher pay, Hess writes. This is going to take time to figure out. And we’re not likely to end up with one right answer for all schools and all sorts of teachers.

We can improve teacher quality through school design, writes Ed Sector’s Elena Silva, who looks at the Generation Schools model. “Many schools are insufficiently attractive to talented professionals, and they squander the talent of those they manage to employ.”

About Joanne


  1. Belinda Gomez says:

    I’d rather pay bonuses for bumps in test scores than for another year served. There’s no way to judge teachers except by student performance and when a lousy teacher gets the same raise as the good one, something’s wrong with the system. (And a good salesman is worth more than a bad one.)

  2. Belinda, so true.

    And as Joanne has pointed out, National Board Certification doesn’t look at the results of student learning. The proof is in the pudding, not in the videos of the chef, but the National Board will just look at the videos.

    Evaluate according to results–if results really do matter, which so far, they don’t, really.

    “Many schools are insufficiently attractive to talented professionals, and they squander the talent of those they manage to employ.”

    Schools treat talented professionals like children. Those teachers who are chosen for positions of authority are usually chosen for reasons that have nothing to do with talent.

    A teacher’s job, above all, is to make his principal’s job easier.

    At all costs, never, ever make his phone ring.

    Teach out of the book, agree with all majority decisions, show student work on the bulletin board without regard to race, creed or quality of writing, show up on time, never put in extra work unless asked by an administrator, be pleasant, watch TV on your free time, avoid questions and never think for yourself.

    Yes, I have to agree. Talent isn’t welcomed, except the talent to stay invisible.

    It’s a place where no good deed goes unpunished.

    Schools are insufficiently attractive to talented professionals? Yes. And that’s why.

    I will never forget my first year. I was in the counselor’s office and she had her hands folded on her desk and she was about to sum it all up for me, our purpose, our mission, our game plan, why we were there, what we were going to do, how we were going to do it. I was on the edge of my chair. And this is what she said, “Let’s make it to June.”

    So the end of every year turns out to be like the fall of Saigon. We push against the cyclone fences for as long as we can and then we make a mad dash into the embassy, onto the roof, climb the ladder, get on the last helicopter, and it flies away. And we leave everything and everybody behind. And we’re free. We just have to make it June.

    It was demoralizing to hear. And I had hopes that things would get better. But they haven’t.

    I teach out of the goodness of my heart (which isn’t that big.) But I get paid for stalling and staying invisible and staying silent.

  3. tim-10-ber says:

    to Robert — truer words have never been spoken about the national certification process of teachers!! Witnessed this debacle first hand at one of the nation’s supposed top schools…what a shame!

    Your closing statement is so very, very sad…

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I drag myself out of bed, ready to face a new day and grade some papers and read some Nel Noddings and I have to face THAT with my coffee?

    I’m going to go slit my wrists now, thank you very much. Maybe put out my eyes, too.

  5. Sadly, I don’t think the money does matter. I believe most teachers work harder/work better when they are respected, when their views are valued, and when their efforts are appreciated and supported. Bonus money is mostly useful because it sends the message; your efforts and expertise are noticed and appreciated. If we can’t change the atmosphere, the money isn’t going to fix anything.

  6. Cue Darren’s broken record on merit pay:
    Mike Miles, Superintendent,
    Harrison District 2, Colorado Springs.
    What he’s got going there *should* be the future of teacher pay in the US.

  7. Belinda, Robert, Tim, what you don’t seem to realize is that this is the proper state of affairs given the structure of public education.

    Belinda’s excellent salesman is valued because that salesman’s excellence contributes to the organizations advancement, even survival. A teacher contributes what? Certainly the school district isn’t dependent on a teacher’s, or all their teacher’s, teaching skill to survive. So the question shouldn’t be why teaching skill isn’t valued but why it should be.

    Which is why every last teacher accountability scheme is destined for failure. The underlying dynamics of the school district haven’t changed so the accountability and bonus schemes are built on a foundation of sand.

  8. allen, you say,

    Belinda, Robert, Tim, what you don’t seem to realize is that this is the proper state of affairs given the structure of public education.


    I do blame it on the structure. Perhaps I didn’t express myself well enough.