Sunday, July 8, 2007

Teacher Merit Pay makes sense

Here is interesting article that ran today on merit pay for educators:

Oakland Press: Many teachers skeptical of merit pay linked to student scores (07/08/07)

Teacher unions ignore the fact that merit pay is embraced and works well in private sector businesses that are similar to education. Professionals who are responsible for non-manufacturing creative work can be rewarded in environments where they cannot control every single variable.

What’s even more unfortunate that most teachers don’t seem to realize the current system is imperfect too, and is perhaps even worse than a merit pay system.

The current “all for one” system boosts pay for mediocre teachers, and restricts pay for those teachers who are outstanding. It does nothing to reward those that go above and beyond; they receive the same amount as those that do the bare minimum or less.

Teachers are currently rewarded solely for their ability to endure. They receive a raise for showing up, year after year. Perhaps the biggest flaw in this practice is that it’s so limiting to those that do the best job. It actually seems insulting.

And those that complain about teacher merit pay seem to forget there’s already an incentive plan in place for educators. They receive additional pay for earning higher degrees, which they certainly seem to do in great numbers. One might argue this isn’t fair for those who cannot afford additional schooling, but the unions seem to gloss over that fact. And despite this “flaw”, it shows that financial incentives do work in education, although the system misses the mark because there is no requirement that the degree be in the teacher’s actual line of work and doesn’t measure whether the additional degree is effective or beneficial to students.

But the union isn’t the only problem; school officials don’t help the situation either. I asked that we move the Rochester superintendent to a merit-based system, but the board’s status quo-based majority rejected the idea.

The article provides some insight into why teachers don’t like the idea. A teacher from California states, “When I look into the eyes of a student who I have taught in the past — or I stand at the door in the morning and my students say, ‘Mrs. Gore, I love you,’ or ‘Mrs. Gore, you’re such a good teacher’ — am I effective or not? I think I’m effective.”

Creating a relationship with a student is certainly one of the keys to teaching. We can give Mrs. Gore the benefit of the doubt that she is indeed loved, but that says nothing about whether she is teaching our children anything.

Educators also, “worry that educators in struggling schools, where students might be poor or speak another language at home, would have trouble getting their student scores up enough to earn the “effective” label.”

These are legitimate concerns. But the article goes on to say, “For their part, many educational policy-makers say that a merit pay system could take such circumstances into account.”

A merit pay system could be crafted to consider any number of factors. But it would need input and cooperation from teacher unions, and they rebuff any overtures. Their approach is to simply expect more taxpayer funds, with no strings attached.

The concern in general seems to be over the “uncontrollable” factors in life.

“Can you account for the child’s emotions? Can you account for whether their parents are getting them to school on time?” asked Sharon Vandagriff, a third-grade teacher near Chattanooga, Tenn.

“They’re looking at this as if we’re manufacturing automobiles,” said Sandy Hughes, who teaches high school English, French and Latin, also near Chattanooga. “With children, you’re working with unique individuals, all of whom have unique qualities. Our variables are so extensive.”

Despite these concerns, there is very clearly a science to teaching. Rochester Community Schools has among the best MEAP scores in the state. (MEAP is the Michigan test that measures how many children can demonstrate minimum proficiency in the state’s standards and benchmarks.) Rochester outperforms districts with overall higher socio-economic demographics, and also outperforms other districts with higher funding. It outperforms other districts that are larger and smaller. Rochester’s success is clearly measurable, despite the so-called extensive variables.

But even within the Rochester system, there are some buildings, and some teachers that clearly seem to outpace the others. I find it very frustrating that the union prevents the district from financially rewarding those responsible.

And finally, the “we’re not manufacturing widgets” argument is getting tiresome. There are many businesses that aren’t repetitive manufacturing companies, yet are able to design merit pay plans. Advertising and pharmaceutical companies are two great examples where creativity and hard work must prevail over an uncertain and uncontrolled environment.

Merit pay plans may not be perfect, and might occasionally need to be adjusted. But they would help to reward those teachers that do a great job, and serve as an incentive for those that could do better.


Anonymous said...

The difficulty with merit is the "how to do it" part.

It is time to move this way.

You use terms like "status quo" and you have for years now to bash the district on many levels.

Now you have been told by another poster that you don't have much good to say about RCS.

You say the majority board "rejected" your proposal.

No they did not. They asked the same question I do now.

HOW do we do it?

The details matter and you are great and long winded on theory and ideas but you lack the EXACT specifics to execute your ideas.

You are only complaining with a hint of proposed solution.

Mike Reno said...

You are confusing "ideas" with "proposal". I asked that we collectively explore the concept of merit pay, and the board rejected the idea.

Besides the unnecessary criticism, your comment here at least asked what I had in mind, which is further than the Rochester school board is willing to go.

The only point made when I proposed the idea of merit pay was a reference to the evaluation system that is supposed to grade the superintendent on various dimensions. That evaluation system -- while an improvement over the previous method -- is still ridiculous and subjective, and has nothing to do with merit pay.

A merit pay system would look at specific objectives, such as raising Advanced Placement Exam participation, or raising AP scores, or managing operational costs, and then reward the superintendent for achieving those goals.

The specifics of the plan would entirely depend on the establishment of measurable goals, but right now the district really has none.

The board has been talking about the creation of a strategic plan. It's been talked about now for a year and a half.

If a strategic plan were created, a pay plan could be tied in part to achieving the goals established in the strategic plan.

The problem is that the Rochester School board doesn't discuss this stuff. The board meetings -- as they are currently conducted -- do not allow for any meaningful discussion. And the dialogue that does occur is entirely driven by desire of some to shut down ideas, not explore them.