Rules For The Voyage: Merit Pay
Before raising anchor and steering beyond the guns of the harbor fort, this is what I set out with in the hold.
- Merit pay, or any system thereof, is not an end onto itself. It must be a means to the type of ends that will improve our schools and systems. We do this not because teachers get so little after giving so much (awww...) but because the principle behind this particular reform takes us to all kinds of places public education needs to go in order to survive. As such, merit pay should only be available in those areas where improvement and reform is critical. Existing conditions already reward and incentivize teaching in the suburbs; further systems of incentives are unnecessary.
- Primarily, the monetary recognition of commitment, ingenuity, hard work, and ultimate effectiveness would improve the retention of the kind of teachers we care about retaining. The aim here is to add additional layers of motivational depth to the profession of teaching, as well as establishing a culture or paradigm or ideology in education where being good matters in ways beyond the kids, the kids, the kids.
- Acknowledging that we're not doing so hot with a system predicated on the quality and sustainability of somebody else's internal drive to excel does not make you Gordon Gecko, Milt Friedman, or the myriad of shitty people you swore you'd never become during your undergrad days when you were raging against various machines.
- Additional improvements potentially fueled by merit pay include the implementation of key methods of school structuring, the establishment of tiered teaching force, and a way to bring talented teachers to low-income areas.
- Any system of performance-based compensation would function in addition to existing salary structures that reward longevity (badly).
- The implementation of a merit pay system requires quantitative measures. These must be based on a sliding scale of student growth, measured by the types of standardized tests so many consider so gross. The sliding scale would require greater qualifying growth at the lower ends, since there is both so much potential and and so much need for large-scale improvement. At the higher ends, relatively less student improvement would be required, so as not to (further) politicize teacher assignment or disincentivize working with any one student group.
- If you teach art, you probably aren't eligible. Bummer.
- The implementation of a merit pay system requires qualitative measures. These must be based on the type of teacher actions that tend not to show up in the box scores. Here, principals could reward educators that have shown they type of exemplary leadership and creativity our current system fails to reward in any way whatsoever.
- If you teach art, you can get some here, especially if you teach art in all those life-changing ways I keep hearing about.
- The dollar amounts need to be substantial. This isn't a tip. Compensation should at least reimburse the post-tax, not-fully-deductible classroom expenditures you make yearly. It should fund a massive vacation, a good used car, get you over the hump on the down payment you want to make on that house at the end of the cul-de-sac.
- The system may be abused. Bummer.
- Seriously. Get over it. In education circles, especially those composed of teachers, we routinely murder the Good in the name of the Perfect. Whether in terms of classroom practices, school structure and function, or large scale systematic improvements and alterations, if an idea or proposal fails to repel any hypothetical hurled its way, said proposal is immediately dismissed and chests are thumped accordingly. We are the salt on the slugs of innovation. I don't doubt that some administrators will play favorites. I don't doubt that somebody's kids will learn little, score high, and that would suck. The petty annoyance of such things is simply not powerful enough to outweigh the myriad potential benefits. Our continued desire to ensure our systems function at the highest possible level is admirable, but the corresponding willingness to cannibalize ideas that fail to pass absurdly rigorous pre-screenings is just killing us.