Thinking aloud about: Merit pay

Someone recently noted that I am a proponent of performance pay for teachers and expressed shock that I would support “merit pay.” That misunderstanding suggests a need to clarify some terms.

I fundamentally disagree with one of the conceptual pillars of most merit pay plans: That teachers can be motivated to achieve better results for our students through pay incentives. The majority of teachers are working as hard as we can and getting little recognition and less support. To suggest that we are withholding our best from our students and would provide that in exchange for a few extra dollars is a slap in the face of every professional educator (not just the “bad” teachers). Consistently, across the nation, the best teachers report that it is not money, but lack of time and support that hinder us from doing more of what is really best for students. A more successful strategy might be attaching dollar values to at least some of what truly effective teachers already do. Through such appraisals, the practices receive status from the employer which means they become not only legitimate activities for teachers during work time, but more important, they become performance expectations. The result would be highly effective teaching behaviors and practices as the norm in a critical mass of classrooms and schools, rather than something we have to squeeze in between the many ineffective things we are currently required to do, or accomplish by stealing time away from our own families.

Of course, there is much, much more to creating comprehensive, equitable, and practical performance-based compensation systems than just this one aspect. As I suggest in our new book, TEACHING 2030:

In the future, our pay systems must build on more rigorous and comprehensive evaluation measures of student and teacher performance, so that the right indicators can create true accountability for teachers and administrators. It must draw on accomplished teachers as full partners in designing and implementing such measures, so the resulting accountability systems will be transparent and useful to policymakers, practitioners, and the public. It must rest on a nuanced approach to paying teachers differently, so that our public school systems are more flexible in adapting to future changes, including the many forces and events we cannot yet delineate. (p.127)

The development of better compensation systems for the educators of the future will require thoughtful, good-faith collaboration of teachers, parents, administrators, school boards, and legislators, and those new systems may look very different across the country. Meanwhile, the teaching profession itself will be changing over the next two decades into something very different from what we have seen for the past 100 years… but I’ll muse on that in another post.

Anybody else have a vision of how teacher pay might/should look and how we could get there from here? Love to hear it.