Thursday, October 11, 2012

Merit Pay Considered in Albemarle?

Teaching is sharing, not competing.
In a seemingly unimportant story about a meeting between the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the County School Board about compensation strategies the following screamed out at me:  "Supervisors also asked the board to consider a merit-based compensation scale. "

Come again?  One would think that something as important as Merit Pay or Merit-Based Pay would fly a little farther up the news flag pole locally but sadly that is not the case.  No worries, Teaching Underground has you covered.   In fact we've had you covered on the topic of Merit Pay something like six times already.  We will say again with a loud and unwavering voice that making kids part of the pay equation is a bad idea.   Don't believe us?  Keep reading.

"Merit Pay" seems like a Panacea for all that ails schools performance wise, but also financially.
Can this be so?  The concept is to boost student achievement and improve our schools using bonuses for teachers.   Many are supporting this flawed concept.   Common sense and mounting evidence suggests Merit Pay is not only a failed solution but that it is not even an improvement.   For this idea to be suggested is contrary to what most educators already know.

Nashville schools were part of the most scientific evaluation to date and after 3 years of study Matthew Springer, executive director of the National Center on Performance Incentives announced the following:.
 “We tested the most basic and foundational question related to performance incentives — Does bonus pay alone improve student outcomes? – and we found that it does not.”  

I tend to be wary of "centers for" things but it seems prudent to point out the above name seems to suggest they would be looking for evidence that it did positively affect student performance.   The RAND corporation's mission is to improve policy and decision making through research and analysis.  It might seem RAND has failed on the front end part of their mission here.  Meanwhile New York City, Chicago along with the State of Texas tried and abandoned such plans after showing no improvement.  But here we are.  Still dealing with faddish cavalier approaches to reform.   Education Historian and expert Diane Ravitch has a better sense of things and doesn't mince words here on the subject.

Bad  reform ideas seem more contagious than good ones.
No Child Left Behind and now Race to the Top pushed by our Education Secretary Arne Duncan fail to comprehend the complexity of what motivates all of us who teach.  A uniform system of pay does indeed do little to motivate us yet we show up every day and good teachers have yet to beat down the local government or statehouse door calling for such a shift.  We teach not to be rich but to make a difference.  Fair pay and work conditions are far more important.  It is exceedingly difficult to measure teacher effectiveness and quality and designing a valid system is elusive so we settle for something else. The only result of PfP is the further demoralization of teachers and more reliance and focus on standardized exams which are debatable in terms of their measure of showing teacher quality.  Something they were not designed to do.    The United States is constantly compared to Finland where they've focused instead on reduced class size, boosted teachers’ salaries, and eliminated most standardized testing.   It would appear we are resolved to forge our own reform path come hell or high water.  It is hard to turn the reform train around.

We could separate Merit Pay and Value Added(another topic we've covered pretty well) and they both amount to Pay for Performance.  You can pay me for what I do, or, you can pay me for what my students do.  The latter is a bad a idea and no sound example of the former truly exists.  That does't change the fact that current compensation practices are inadequate and potentially outdated.  I can only hope is the same will soon be true for Merit Pay.   Most teachers simply ask they be paid what they are really worth something that is rarely the case.

In the meantime we plan on doing our best to "educate" our local representatives on the subject with the hope that Merit Pay might not progress far beyond consideration.    We'd encourage you to voice whatever our your view is as well. 

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