Our state legislature has approved merit pay, leaving the districts to sort out how to distribute it. Our district superintendent, realizing that teachers are already burdened with so many out-of-class commitments, wrote us a letter saying that teachers may receive merit pay simply by documenting what they’re already doing with research-based strategies in their classrooms. This is a kindly approach, but as with grantwriting, it favors those teachers who write well, and those who are not cowed by filling out yet another form.
Merit pay doesn’t work (http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/meritpay.htm), but legislatures, driven by NCLB and test scores that don’t measure up to it, are still trying to beat the dead horse. Sure, I’m happy to fill out a form and document my splendid teaching, but then, I’m a writer. The truth is, hardly anybody actually knows whether I’m a great teacher or not. My principal (in the junior high where I teach in the mornings) does know, and he gives me plenty of support, but all it takes is one acting-out kid, bringing in her acting-out parents, to besmirch my name in the community and brand me as a crappy teacher. Furthermore, nobody much knows the quality of my work in juvenile corrections, where six locked doors and a seal of confidentiality close out most adults, although the staff working inside gets a first-hand view every day. In large schools where administrators are spread thin among many classes and teachers, I would guess that much stellar work goes unnoticed.
The problem with merit pay is compounded when legislatures, anxious to fill emptying slots for math and science teachers, gives automatic across-the-board merit pay for those teachers, whether they’re good ones or not. This can cause real resentment, and more to the point, discouragement in teachers who try very hard to teach brilliantly in subjects other than science and math.
Giving merit pay to all teachers in a school when the school’s test scores improve is also a problem, as documented in the editorial above. If you teach in a school where there is a large transient population, where many students do not speak English fluently, where there is rampant drug use, or where there are many special-education students, your test scores may not improve at all, and that has nothing to do with the superior teaching which may be going on.
As a teacher in a state with one of the lowest pay scales for teachers in the nation, I freely admit that it takes two salaries, either from married couples or moonlighting, to make a comfortable living, and so I welcome merit pay, quality teaching days (a system of paying for professional development), and any other additions to my salary, yet, as the editorial above points out, most teachers leave the profession more often because of pressures relating to accountability rather than just low pay, although new teachers, starting out with the lowest pay, may fold because of salaries.
Bottom line: thanks to legislatures for realizing that teachers aren’t paid enough, and thanks to my district for this momentary boost, but in the long run, no thanks to a system that doesn’t really work.