Should teachers be paid for performance? That’s the question pondered in editorials in today’s edition of USA Today. BoardBuzz has covered this subject before here.
USA Today is for merit pay, telling the story of Meadowcliff Elementary in Little Rock, which began offering bonuses three years ago. The bonuses were meted out to staff when student test scores increased.
Increasingly, cafeteria workers sat with students to chat about school work. Even more startling, the janitor began taking his breaks in the cafeteria reading a book, just to serve as a role model.
And when test scores arrived at the end of the year showing improvement, Carter heard whoops of joy from teachers whose bonuses would help pay off their college bills. The better each of their students did, the bigger their bonuses. The janitor and other support staff were rewarded for the school’s overall gains.
Such is the power of “merit pay,” a concept long opposed by teachers and their unions.
And a member of the opposition is Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, who expresses his dissenting view alongside USA Today’s opinion. Weaver rejects merit pay as it applies to the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (read BoardBuzz‘s piece on the subject from earlier this week here).
The No Child Left Behind Act expires this year, and the National Education Association has proposed positive changes in the law. These include expanding early childhood education, smaller classes and extra help for children who need it. But these priorities have been overshadowed by a proposed federal mandate that would base teacher pay on student test scores.
Districts in dozens of states are experimenting with plans that compensate teachers partly based on test results. Local teachers unions have helped create such programs in Denver, Minneapolis, and Columbus, Ohio.
Weaver points out that local groups, with teacher buy-in can create programs that work to the advantage of schools, students, teachers, and their communities. He also argues that the public “pay teachers for the knowledge and skills they gain, provide incentives to teach in hard-to-staff schools, and offer salaries competitive with other professions that require a college degree.” Paying teachers as professionals? A noble concept.
His argument is strong.
Federal mandates that tie compensation to test scores can’t substitute for a working environment high on trust and meaningful work. And it can’t replace a perverse pay scale where teacher wages have fallen 12% since 1993 compared with workers with similar education and skills.
We should invest precious federal dollars in giving all teachers competitive salaries, quality professional development and better working conditions. Too often, it is simpler to tinker with bonuses than to exercise the political will necessary to reform teacher quality at its core.
But USA Today counters it well.
At Meadowcliff, a poor urban school, tests scores rose about seven percentage points compared with similar schools lacking merit pay, says University of Arkansas professor Gary Ritter. Though it’s too soon to tell whether the gains can be sustained over time, it’s not too soon to declare that merit pay has earned a chance to succeed.
This discussion is sure to simmer as the NCLB reauthorization process continues. What’s your take on teacher merit pay? Leave a comment here and tell us about it.