Archive for April 2, 2012

Merit Pay: Gambling with Education

Step right up and gamble on your child’s education with merit pay for teachers at the all new and improved Public Schools Casino For-Real where huge amounts of money will be spent on an unsupportable quick-fix for educating students!

Merit pay has proven ineffective for CEOs so why would politicians bet on it for improving teacher performance?   Answer: it is the least expensive way for politicians to pretend they doing something to improve education.

In his recent book “Drive”, Daniel Pink uses four decades of scientific research to debunk the carrot-and-stick motivation of merit pay. Instead, Pink thoughtfully explains how three aspects of motivation – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – truly increase productivity, high performance, and job satisfaction.

Before Michelle Rhee, Race to the Top, and other current forms of education reform, merit pay was never a viable education reform option. Previously, autonomy motivated teachers through the ability to direct their own classrooms not follow the directives of misguided, under funded federal law and the accompanying over-load of accountability measures and paperwork.  Mastery of the teaching profession motivated teachers to learn and create new ways to reach students instead of begin told to use expensive, scripted, “research proven” curriculum materials promoted by publishers who lobby politicians.  Job satisfaction for teachers has always been one of the greatest motivators encouraging teachers to do what is right by students and parents because they felt protected by unions to stand up stand for best-practice teaching methodology, without fear of loosing their jobs when challenging the status-qou.

Let’s not fool ourselves on this gamble, many teachers who might receive merit pay for making a difference in their students lives would do so without merit pay, yet what kind of educators will merit pay begin to attract?  In addition, as an experienced teacher, who, more often than not, has improved student achievement in my classroom every year, I know most parents would not want their children being taught by competitive, race to the top teachers who view their children as test score numbers to improve for merit pay.  Reaching every student in a classroom is a complex mix of human development, nurture, and professional know-how above and beyond your typical business model of merit.

I’ve seen what a focus on test scores has done to school morale and it is far from productive.  At a previous school, I saw teachers encouraged to finger point at other teachers because student test scores fell over the summer!  I’ve then seen teachers take credit for students improvement and say this had nothing to do with the previous teachers students had.  On top of all the teacher back-biting, I experienced administrators, so worried about their own pay rate, encouraging staff members to turn on each other through tattling, gossip mongering in order to demoralize other teachers who were struggling to meet scripted mandates.

This is the future of merit pay:  pitting teachers against each other instead of encouraging them to work as a team.  Look forward to teachers being as cut-throat as wall street brokers competing against each other for the biggest piece of the pie.  It didn’t work on Wall Street so why would it work in hallways of schools?