Merit Pay and Other Ideas

With Governor Huntsman seeking more money to raise pay levels for public school teachers the Daily Herald calls for something better than a pay-raise across the board. They suggest using the money for merit-based pay increases. I agree completely as I had already suggested that merit-pay might be a good first step to build momentum and consensus in improving our public schools.

Devising an effective merit pay system for a job as subjective as teaching is a challenge, but not impossible. Business managers evaluate subjective factors all the time when reviewing employee performance. What is needed in the public schools is performance evaluation based on some combination of elements, with an accounting for differences in groups of students. The teacher’s job is to drive progress, regardless of the starting point of students. . .

Principals, the front-line managers, should have greater latitude to evaluate performance. They know who their best people are. An evaluation of a teacher might include such things as creating a positive environment for children (perhaps including feedback from parents), innovation, creativity, knowledge of subject matter and communication. If a principal is also subject to merit pay based on overall performance of the school, fears of favoritism should be minimized.

The only group that would oppose merit pay would be the NEA because merit pay could have a negative effect on below average teachers (which would likely be a positive effect on our public schools).

Unfortunately our current system is not set up to encourage teachers to excel. Many teachers come in with high hopes of making a difference in the lives of students only to be worn down within a few years until they quit teaching in public schools. Others may soon abandon their high ideals and rely instead on the job security of a perpetual teacher shortage combined with a large union protecting them from being fired for mediocrity. Few people have the mental and emotional reserves to continue to perform at a high level for an extended number of years in a system that does not reward outstanding achievement. An across-the-board pay raise would not improve that aspect of our school system.

In addition to promoting merit-pay, the Daily Herald suggested some other changes that are worth consideration:

But merit pay is not the only innovation that ought to be evaluated. What would have happened this year, for instance, if the $349 million that went to teachers had been poured into lower-priced staff support? If teachers could be freed from the time-consuming routine of grading and other rote work, perhaps they would have more time to plan, more time to energize, more time to inspire.

Nor should teachers be drawn exclusively from education programs at universities. A great candidate for a teacher is one who is alive with the excitement of a subject and wants to transmit that to others. A wide range of graduates is needed to populate the teaching ranks in Utah’s future schools, and barriers to entry should be minimized.

Those suggestions are too broad to really support without some specifics, but we need to get creative about improving our system. The problems are not going to just go away nor is the cost going to go down over time unless we abandon our ideals or else make some significant changes.

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About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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2 Responses to Merit Pay and Other Ideas

  1. Jesse Harris says:

    As much as I would like to see teacher compensation increased, I’m wary that appropriation of additional funds, no matter how well-intended, would not improve the education system as a whole. We’ve been lobbing gobs of money at schools for decades now with almost none of it making its way to teacher salaries. It’s too bad that it’s not politically viable to ask districts to account for all of that spending as a way to increase pay for those that most deserve it.

  2. David says:

    We should be able to require districts to account for where the money goes. And you’re right – if we appropriate money for teacher salaries we need to make sure that the teachers get it.

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