Merit pay for teachers was discussed on KUOW's "The Conversation" this afternoon. I haven't had a chance to listen to the show yet, but did read some of the background links they provided:
'Merit pay plan's unintended lesson', St. Petersburg Times
'Pros and Cons of Merit Pay For Teachers' , About.com: Elementary Education
It's a tough issue to say the least. I like the idea of rewarding the best teachers. I think money for a rewards system would be easier to come by politically than simply raising pay for all teachers. But, setting up the right metrics to decide who is best is certainly problematic.
Bonuses cannot be based on test results alone -- as per the Florida example, you don't want to set up a system where teachers in affluent schools reap most of the rewards. Also, teaching at its best is a team activity, and we cannot have a bonus system that pits good teachers against each other. Perhaps all of the teachers in a school should get an equal bonus based on the overall performance of the school when compared with the expected performance of the school (based on the children the school serves). Is there some reasonable way to measure this? And, I wouldn't want to judge a school on the three R's alone.
If a team of teachers is rewarded based on how they perform as a unit, it would not only encourage positive teamwork, but might also help with the issue of how to most effectively deal with underperforming teachers. I readily admit that as a parent I'm not in the best position to judge a teacher objectively (good or bad, for all students). But, I suspect teachers -- more than anyone -- truly know the value of their peers. A team-based bonus would be financial motivation for the teacher's union to police themselves --whether working to improve teachers who need help, or moving the weakest performers out of teaching. The key to this is that there must not be a fixed pot of money that gets redistributed -- there must be the potential for everyone to get paid more if the whole district responds to the challenge.
My crazier idea is that all adult taxpayers should get to vote (right on their tax return) for the public school teachers that had the biggest positive impact on their life, and a government bonus pool should go to those people. Unlike the short-term bonus, this would be a longer-term way for us as a country to acknowledge the importance of teachers in our lives. Time gives us all the perspective to know which teachers have truly made an impact that deserves special reward.
Thoughts? If you're a strong teacher, don't you believe it's unfair that some lesser performing teachers get paid just as much or more than you? Is merit pay for teachers something that should be explored in Seattle? Is it possible to devise a way to administer this fairly with proper incentives?