Merit pay for teachers makes sense

April 17, 2009 — by Shannon Galvin and Vijay Menon

For almost any other occupation across the country, good performance, not how many years spent on the job or number of degrees possessed, merits the bonuses or increased pay. The time has come for public education to follow this model as well. Merit pay is a bold idea—within public education—but everywhere else it’s taken as common sense.

The election of Barack Obama has finally brought education reform to the forefront in Washington and at the top of the president’s agenda sits the highly contentious issue of merit pay. Education unions have traditionally opposed merit pay; they argue that the subjectivity of the bonuses cannot be guaranteed and instead raises should be given across the board. However, the idea is now starting to gain momentum, particularly due to Obama’s strong support of the proposal. The National Education Association expressed interest in working with Obama on the issue but insists the teachers must be a part of the decision and help create the final proposition along with legislators.

Despite the controversy, the president is taking the right stance on the issue. In order for America to regain its status in the world, it must first fix its crumbling school system. Instituting teacher-based merit pay in public schools will not only reward our nation’s most proficient teachers but will provide an incentive for other teachers to improve.

Many opponents argue that there is no way to measure the quality of teaching. While it may not be possible to assign a numerical value to teacher performance, there are a number of factors that can be looked at in determining teacher pay. These include the students’ performance on standardized testing and evaluations of teacher performance. By focusing particularly on score improvement made by students over the course of the year, the performance of teachers can be assessed accurately. In-class and peer evaluations, however, should also be considered along with the scores to achieve a balance. A major argument against merit pay is the issue of subjectivity of the administration when determining evaluations of the teachers, but pairing the evaluations with statistical information from test scores would help make the process more fair and balanced instead of just relying on the whims of the administration.

It is also important that merit pay be linked with the addition of value-added assessments, which enable supervisors and the teachers themselves to look at statistical analysis and determine how to help improve the students over the course of the year. That way, teachers will have to the tools to help plan to improve their performance in the classroom and also earn a bonus the next year.

The Teacher Advancement Plan (TAP), developed by the Milken Family Foundation, shows the most promise for a plan to introduce merit pay and improve the education system. The plan revolves around four components: multiple career paths, ongoing professional development, instructionally focused accountability and performance-based compensation. Coupling merit pay along with these other components would vastly improve our education system.

At Saratoga High, most of these components are already in place, with the exception of merit pay. Implementing a program based on student improvement would allow the teachers who make the most impact to be rewarded and provide an incentive for other teachers to meet. All too often, the only way to get ahead financially in the education career path is to take on an administrative job. Merit pay would allow good teachers to stay teaching and allow them to go up a ladder of opportunities, from career to mentor to master teacher.

Professional development is another important factor addressed by the TAP, having schools restructure time to allow rookie teachers to talk with the more experienced and share ideas. Saratoga High School addresses this issue with the current Peer Assistance and Review program, where new teachers are paired with a mentor during their first few years as a teacher.

When it comes to compensating teachers, the district should take into consideration the teachers’ roles and responsibilities, classroom performance, and objective test scores. Also, pay should be given to teachers to encourage them to work in hard-to-staff areas—when the pay increases, the quality of applicants for the job increases as well. Saratoga and Los Gatos attract highly qualified educators due to its environment and slightly higher pay; schools in disadvantaged areas should have the resources to attract the same caliber of teachers to make a difference in their area.

Of course, the implementation of merit pay would bring about some unintended consequences, and perhaps the budget for education would have to be increased to reward better teachers. However, the necessity for change and the benefits that would be brought far outweigh these consequences. If the impact of a good teacher on a student can be measured and evaluated properly, then implementing merit pay would be justified. For example, in elementary school, a good teacher can make a very noticeable and recordable difference on the students’ test scores. While it might not affect Saratoga High meaningfully, it would surely improve the quality of teaching in the areas of this country where it is so desperately needed.

With crucial support from President Obama, the time is now to introduce merit pay into the education system. It’s time to bring common sense to education.

2 views this week