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What is Merit Pay for Teachers?

Most merit pay for teacher programs focus on classroom performance, which can be difficult to rate.
Many great teachers come under scrutiny because their students do not perform well on standardized tests, which may also be used to determine merit pay.
Teachers in a merit pay system have their individual performance reviewed by superiors before they are eligible for a raise.
Merit pay can reward talented, innovative teachers who encourage children to think in new ways.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2014
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Merit pay for teachers is a pay scale for people in the teaching profession that is based on performance, rather than tenure. Many people are proponents of this type of pay system, arguing that it rewards good teachers for skilled work while encouraging others to develop more professional skills. Organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers have raised concerns about how such wage plans are administered, however, suggesting that teacher performance is a challenging thing to evaluate, and this type of payment plan may not be the best way to improve overall educational standards.

When a school district uses a merit pay plan, it typically creates a system for evaluating teacher performance and examines the teachers in the district regularly to see how they are performing. A teacher who routinely performs above the standard may be offered higher pay for his or her work, as will teachers who pursue professional growth, while other teachers are kept at the regular pay standard. Depending on how the system is applied, it may allow teachers to progress more quickly through the various pay grades, or it may put teachers on different salary tracks.

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The primary issue with merit pay for teachers is the question of how to evaluate teacher performance. Most merit systems look at classroom performance, but it can be difficult to judge this fairly. The use of testing as a yardstick for pay can be dangerous, because a lot of factors go into how a student performs on a standardized test, including parental involvement, student access to educational materials that may be hindered by limited budgets, and an individual child's learning style and test-taking skills.

Merit pay programs can also look at lesson plants, student behavior in the classroom, student success after leaving the classroom, and evaluations from other teachers. Most critics argue that the best way to assess teacher performance is from outside the district, with several states in America setting up “master teacher” programs to identify particularly talented teachers and reward them for their work. Master teachers also work with other teachers in their districts, discussing teaching techniques, classroom strategy, and so forth.

When well applied, merit pay can reward talented, innovative teachers who encourage children to think in new ways, expanding their experiences and knowledge base. When poorly applied, however, it can verge on cronyism, with district favorites receiving pay raises while teachers who struggle with a number of challenges are not credited for their hard work. There is one thing that supporters and opponents can agree upon, however: teachers should be making more money across the board for the work they do.

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anon327393
Post 8

If you like the idea of merit pay, imagine this: You receive a pay increase if your students improve.

Legislation such as "No Child Left Behind" puts students in your classroom who cannot improve as fast as others - if you happen to get more of these students than other teachers, you don't get a raise. Is this fair?

Let's say you get a child whose parents get divorced during the school year, and that child feels terrible, and does worse on the end of year exams. Does this mean the teacher did not do a good job?

I would love to compare my teaching against others, but I don't see a fair way to do it.

As much as I hate seniority as a basis for awarding work, I'm at a loss as to how to replace it completely.

anon243635
Post 7

If teachers will be "graded" will there be some accountability for parents who do not do there share, like helping little Jimmy bring his homework etc. Will the teacher have points added to their score if they have parents who do not do their jobs?

anon153963
Post 6

Currently in Ohio SB 5 is being pushed without defining Merit Pay.

Those of you who are proponents of merit pay are probably in the private sector where performance based on merit can be easily measured. Say, exceeding and sale quota or saving on expenses.

How do you propose measuring the success of students in art, music, or physical education?

As a Phys Ed. teacher, do I lose my job because I have obese children in my class who cannot and never will be able to perform at or above a national standard? How do you propose to evaluate an art teacher? Will you interpret and judge the artwork of students to determine whether or not the art teacher gets a pay raise?

Merit pay does not belong in the schools. There are just too many variables that can't be measured with a yardstick.

anon127861
Post 5

It is often difficult in public enterprise to effectively evaluate employee performance. This difficulty only increases as the level of responsibility of the employee increases and the supervision of that employee decreases. This is the case with teachers in this country. A teacher has great individual responsibility and is not managed closely by anyone. This makes it difficult for the administrators of the school to make qualitative evaluations into quantitative assessments.

In addition, standardized tests are suspect in their ability to judge a student’s ability (within a certain range of scores).

We must also consider the variables that may be present outside the classroom. Teachers in low income areas are going to be faced with a greater challenge due to less parental involvement. Simply put, there are factors that may influence how a child performs on a test that a teacher may be unable to influence.

Teacher evaluations should also consider teacher behavior and interaction with the students. In elementary education, for example, the evolution of a student’s social skills is equally important to math, science, and reading.

It is not as easy as some may think to measure teacher performance. Also remember that the culture of public education will change dramatically with the widespread adoption of merit based pay systems. Think of issues of tenure, right to position as property, and freedom of instructors to teach outside the end of the year tests. --ECF

sunshine31
Post 4

Subway11-I think that states should do what they can to limit the teacher’s union influence so that a merit pay grid can be instituted.

Here in Florida, they tried to pass a merit pay bill for teachers and eliminate tenure for new teachers and our Governor Charlie Crist vetoed it.

Florida really has a weak teacher’s union and they do not carry much clout in Florida. I know that states like Michigan require teachers that teach in the public school system to be members of the unions and pay their dues.

That should really be unconstitutional because they should allow the teachers to decide if they want to contribute or not and not be forced.

subway11
Post 3

Cafe41-I also agree that merit pay works and should be applied to attract the best teachers.

Principals should have the ability to hire a teacher at a higher salary then the salary step grid that is currently offered.

Teachers in the first ten years all get the same few hundred dollar increase which is not fair. Teachers should be compensated based on results and if they produced outstanding results, they should be offer a substantial pay raise for that year.

This should be how you define merit pay. It should be used as a motivational tool for the best teachers. I feel that we should stop the step system and come up with a compensation similar to those in a business where teachers may even be eligible for bonuses.

cafe41
Post 2

Crispety- The reason why the teachers unions are so against a merit pay increase is because it takes away their power not because they cannot measure teacher performance.

You can easily measure the scores that the children in the class receive individually and if they score above a certain grade level then they were previously, you know that they are being taught well. It just has to be measurable progress.

There are various measures that can be taken to define what area the teachers would need to scoring into an order to receive a merit pay increase.

Besides standardized tests are also classroom averages that can measure the success of a classroom. In the public school system we have A graded schools as well as B graded schools and so on.

So there were measures that were taken to identify and categorize these schools, why can’t we do that same thing with teachers?

Crispety
Post 1

I believe that a merit pay bill should be brought forth. A merit pay increase should be given to teachers that have excelled in the classroom.

The problem is as long as the Teacher's Union is wielding the power that it does, merit pay education will be a fantasy. You only have to look at the movie, "Waiting for Superman”.

This documentary shows how the teachers unions have deteriorated the public school education. Unions really deteriorate every industry that they're in because they are not rewarding productivity.

They are making demands without the bases of productivity which doesn't make any sense. In any business the most productive employees are the ones that generally get rewarded why this is so different in the school system?

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