One of the educational issues touted by conservatives has been implementation of a system of merit pay for teachers. On the surface it sounds logical, pay teachers for producing, just like in business. The reality, however, is much more complicated.
The concept of merit pay for teachers has been around for at least thirty years. I can remember a colleague, who was in graduate school, calling me with questions about merit pay for a poll he was taking. Talk of merit pay died down, but has been resurrected by conservatives as they attempt to blame educators for the ills of society, not to mention the perceived loss of our status as world hegemon.
The primary issue with merit pay that I perceive, is that kids are not widgets which can be discarded if defective. Along the same vein, how can a teacher be judged by the work of students of unequal ability who are not spread out equally among all teachers? What about students who move into a class during the school year, or students who leave the class during the school year? What about students who come from nurturing home environments and those whose home environments are not so nurturing?
Value-added evaluation is another form of merit pay that is similarly flawed. To base an evaluation, even in part, on the performance of students, is a flawed method embraced by those politicians and pundits who have no real knowledge how teaching and learning really work. Large amounts of cash are being thrown at value-added and merit pay systems which really only serve to support the high-stakes testing movement which is abhorred by most educators.
Today I read a very good article in the Washington Post titled, “Proof There Is No Proof For Education Reforms.” I urge all who have an interest or stake in true education reform to read and share this article which debunks many of the supposed “truths” held by educational critics, including merit pay and value-added evaluations.
The real problem with education reform is the lack of agreement in what skills and knowledge will be necessary for the coming years. While there is agreement that the skills and knowledge necessary for a productive life in the 20th century are not what is needed now, there is no clear blueprint for what is needed in the 21st century. Education follows, it does not lead, where society points. As the path becomes more clear, education will sort itself out and provide what society requires. Until then, the chaos we currently face will continue.