merit pay for teachers


Image by Christian Marc Schmidt.

Image by Christian Marc Schmidt.


This morning I read the following article by NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92611633 . Its a brief summary of how merit pay systems for teachers are playing out in a Colorado school district.  I’ve always felt that teachers should be treated as any other employees.  Whenever I see or read a teacher being interviewed about this subject it always cracks me up.  While the rest of the American public is used to being accountable for their performance, these teachers are whining about seeing their better performing co-workers get paid more.  I realize these people have probably never worked in the private sector, but COME ON!  If there is any area where we need performance standards its in our education system.

One area closely related to this topic that simply baffles me is how difficult it is to discipline, let alone fire, a teacher.  It reminds me of an episode of This American Life where they go undercover in a NYC Board of Education office known simply as ‘the rubber room.’  Hell, if you can’t fire a teacher send them to detention.  It is quite hilarious.  It can be found here: http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1232

This also reminds me of a multi-part special that Newshour did in November on a school district in D.C. that was trying new approaches to teacher performance problems.  I won’t go into the details here but there are videos of parts one and two that are very palatable: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/jan-june08/challenge_04-02.html  Also look for the progress updates Newshour produced.

In no way am I endorsing the privatization of schools.  The education of our children is too important to be left to the market.  Imagine the headline:  The Dow is up nine points but IQ futures took a nose dive due to reports of broken down soda machines in hallways throughout student factories in the midwest.  Scary, eh?  What I am saying is that teachers, and for that matter all government employees, should be performance managed like the rest of us.

EDIT: My rant about performance standards may bring you to the conclusion that I’m for standardized testing as a way to measure teachers.  This is far from the case.  Each teacher should be evaluated based on school-wide goals and given the support to achieve those goals.  Of course the overall progress of the students is an important measurement, but this should be compared against other kids in the same school.  In other words, you evaulate a teacher based on his/her performance in relation to others at the same school and you evaulate schools (read principals) in relation to others in the same district (read socioeconomic class).  Taking it even further, districts should be judged in relation to the rest of the state.  This type of hierarchy would naturally allow teachers to concentrate on students, principals to concentrate on leadership and administration, and the state to recognize that there is a direct link between socioeconomic class and student performance.  With this information the state can allocate resources based on need.


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