Sunday, August 2, 2009

Merit Pay- A bad idea?

If you do your job professionally, responsibly, with the best intentions for those that you serve and you are successful at it, you should be rewarded. I don't think that there are many people that would disagree with this. There is much debate in education and the world at large about merit pay for teachers. As I see it, merit pay is based on rewarding teachers based on how their students do (improve) on tests. At face value, this seems like an easy thing to do. Delving deeper however, this is a terrible idea. I am going to try and tell you why I think so.

Some students do very well on tests but others do not. Why should a teacher be penalized for that? Teachers should not teach to tests and consequently students should not be asked to memorize things so that they can be tested and score high. Students are not machines- they are living breathing human beings developing at different rates. Most of us can remember when we had a break through of understanding about a concept that was messing up our brain before. You might be a person that excels in school, it is easy for you. On the other hand, you might be someone that has real difficulties with learning and has to work really hard. Working hard can be exhausting for a grownup as well as a child.

A classroom teacher does not exist in the room by themselves. There is the students family, previous teachers, the school environment, and the community that they live in. If a teacher could control everything that happens to a child, it would be easier to teach them everything that they would need to learn. This is not the real world. If you have not slept well, are hungry, have a stressful home environment, are having personal can you concentrate and do your best on a high stakes test?

Teachers should be cooperating with each other. Not one person I know has all of the answers. Anyone would feel resentment to their coworkers if their classroom of challenging students was not making the progress that they needed to be and their less challenging students were making great gains. It is unfair. If I can work with others to share what I know in order to improve all students learning, shouldn't I?

The classroom teachers are in a unique position. They generally teach all of the basic subject matter. If the students score high in reading, science and math but not in social studies- will this mean that they do not receive merit pay? Starting in middle school students have many different classes to go to. Is the middle school or high school math teacher going to be denied merit pay based on a certain percentage of students making the gains on a test?

How would a school district reward merit pay to a music, art, physical education, media specialist, computer, special education, language and other support teacher?

I do not mean to argue that teachers should not be held accountable for their teaching. I think that there should be an easier way for disillusioned or ineffective teachers to be released from their contracts. Unions should not protect teachers that are not doing what they are supposed to do. How would this be determined? I don't have a solution but certainly we should begin the discussion.

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