Friday, December 12, 2014

Merit pay for teachers; unintended consequences

There is some intuitive resonance in the argument;
if you reward teachers for higher performance, 
teachers will be encouraged to higher performance.
It is based on the premise that most teachers are not now performing to their potential.

I take issue with the premise.  Beyond that, there are other issues.  I would like to consider three.

The first is; is it really such a good idea to change the fundamental nature of teaching from collaboration to competition?  Knowing that;

Competition brings out the best in products
and the worst in people
Faqimi Fauzi
... is it possible that putting teachers in competition for large cash bonuses will do more harm than good?

My personal, lengthy experience is; teaching is among the most collaborative of professions.

In general, teachers having problems have little trouble finding experienced and talented teachers who are more than willing to share their experience and help in anyway they can. After all, they share a common goal.

What happens when they find themselves in competition for large cash bonuses?  What happens when the goal shifts from doing what's best for all students to, doing what is most likely to provide for a large cash bonus?
Secondly, the determination process for who are the best teachers will be arbitrary, subjective or both. If there were a recognized, accepted and respected, objective measure of teacher performance, we would be using it.

And finally, even if merit pay works, will it provide the most bang for the buck?

Consider three teachers; a very good teacher, an average teacher and a very bad teacher. Place them on a continuum of their positive effect on students.

Positive effect to ______________________________ Negative effect

One might suppose, the average teachers falls in the center.  Not so.
very good ____average_______________________ very bad

There is less difference in the positive effects of an average and very good teacher than there is between an average and very bad teacher.

The worst teachers do more harm than the best teachers do good.

If we used the money we intend to spend on merit pay, and used it instead to ferret out and fix or fire the worst teachers, we would be better off; far better off.


And, just because whenever the conversation comes around to firing bad teachers, someone is bound to say; you can't fire bad teachers because the teachers unions protect bad teachers.

Nonsense.  Unions insist that the agreed upon rules for firing a bad teacher, be followed.  They are not protecting bad teachers, they are protecting good teachers from being fired for bad reasons.  Unions have no more interest in protecting bad teachers than anyone else.  Unions do not survive on bad teachers dues.

The single largest problem in firing bad teachers is bad administrators.  Bad administrators fail to document problems and remediation, fail to follow the rules, and in so doing, make it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

photo Mark Bralley

1 comment:

JD Robertson said...

If I hire someone to work for me - I expect him to do his best work! I do not expect to pay him/her MORE. money as time goes on to continue to do his best work. If, on the other hand, he/she comes up with an idea, scheme or method of doing the same work more effficiently I consider he/she is performing over and above what he/she was hired to do - and should be rewarded for meritorious performance.