Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Merit pay is gaining ground...

...and it's a good thing, if you ask me.

From CNN:

Minnesota teachers warm to performance pay

LA CRESCENT, Minnesota (AP) -- Gone are the days when teachers' salaries rose automatically with years of experience, or academic credits. In this idyllic Mississippi River town, teachers get an annual raise only if they set and fulfill performance goals.
All in all, this article seems pretty good. It's nice to see that some teachers have gotten past the reflexive-hatred stage when it comes to the subject.
Teachers are trying hard to prove they're worth the money, from more frequent student testing, to e-mailing parents, to trying out different styles for their students.
It's a very good sign, and exactly the effect merit pay should be having. Whether a teacher is doing well or poorly, merit pay is an incentive for him to do better. It's an incentive to try out new approaches, to see if some get better results than others. It could also be an incentive for teachers and others to do what they know works best in spite of external pressure. (Hat tip -- instructivist)
Teachers unions, most notably the National Education Association, are leery about losing the pay security of the traditional system of experience and academic credits. They worry performance pay can be too subjective, and that test scores -- a measurement tool often linked with merit pay -- aren't a fair way to judge student progress.
The obligatory "NEA hates merit pay" passage. My question, if anyone would care to answer it, is this: How are seniority and academic credits objective when judging a teacher's worth to the school? Any old seat-warmer could work his way up the seniority scale without becoming a better teacher. (He'll probably become a better seat-warmer, though.) It's a similar problem with academic credits. A seat-warmer could rack up credits that look good on paper but have little academic content while other teachers took worthwhile courses and got paid just the same.
Darrel Collins, a social studies teacher in his 30th year, said he's noticed a difference in how his colleagues approach their jobs. Collins said the program has worked because peers are involved in the evaluations and teachers get some leeway on what constitutes progress.
Another good sign. Also, I like the implementation where merit pay is not tied solely to standardized test scores. Rapport with students (and faculty) and classroom management should also figure into things, and that's something that a standardized test just can't measure.

Ideally, the states would offer year-end bonuses for improvement on standardized test scores while the districts offer salary increases based on achievement of teacher and district-set goals along with assessment of classroom management and rapport with students. While it wouldn't be a completely objective system, it would be a much better measurement of what the teacher is worth to the school and his students, and therefore how much he should be paid.

TOPIC: Education