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Merit Pay - Hand-out or Hand-up

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Lead from the Start: Merit Pay - Hand-out or Hand-up

Monday, May 19, 2008

Merit Pay - Hand-out or Hand-up

Nancy Flanagan, TLNer and brilliant writer posted on the EducationPolicy Blog about merit pay. She juxtaposed two views, one of a 40 year veteran teacher who said,"Don't do me any favors." and one on principal merit pay.

Some teachers are offended by the offer to pay them based on merit, saying they can't work any harder. I am not sure this is the point. Even ineffective teachers work hard. I have always said it is harder not to teach than to teach. Managing 19 kids is much harder than teaching 19 kids. So if it is not about working harder, what is it about?

In a recent post on Swift and Change Able they highlighted an article with this statement: "We put way, way too much emphasis on holding schools accountable," Haertel said. "If educators in failing schools knew what to do, they'd already be doing it."

This was not said by someone who has actually worked in a school. Failing schools fail because of a disconnect between teachers and students feeling accountable to each other not because teachers are stupid or incompetent.

Nancy makes some great points especially about how merit based pay has been co-opted. Here are my comments.

I would argue from an economic standpoint that we should always reward what we want more of and more great teachers seems obvious.

Where i find a bone in the soup is that as soon as I say merit based pay many policy folks say value-added measures. I think we really need to rethink why we want to base teachers' pay on what students do instead of on what teachers do. I am fully aware and comfortable with high standards. That should be one of the things I am held accountable for but I don't feel like because I do a good job and Nancy next door does a stellar job, I shouldn't be rewarded for meeting standards. One of the problems I discovered recently with value-added measures is the problem of fade. This is when a kid has a great teacher in 3rd grade then two average teachers. That kid's learning that the 3rd grade teacher would be rewarded for has not been maintained. Then what do we do?

Let the madness stop. Here is an idea, just pay everybody who teaches fair to fabulous better and send the rest back to teacher school.

Finally, consider basing pay on "what teachers do with kids" (Pianta, EdWeek 2008) instead of the results of what teachers do with kids. We need to think about Karl Popper's theory of falsification, "How could this child's achievement not be due to how well the teacher did or didn't teach?" How many factors are there that could affect how we answer that question? Could we ever really "know"? This, to me, is the fundamental problem of basing teachers rewards on student testing. I can't see a valid causal relationship. What can be seen, with a number of tools,(NBPTS, CLASS, etc.) is what a teacher "knows and is able to do" in a classroom with kids.

Is there another way we can hold teachers accountable? If schools are accountable for the whole child (health, safety, psychology, etc.) but only rewarded for academics how does that affect 'what teachers do with kids?"


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