FInally something I actually know about

Reader comment on: Manhattan Institute and Merit Pay

Submitted by ben (United States), May 18, 2010 15:39

There are many problems with merit pay as it is normally conceived and written of. As a teacher, these are the central issues.

1. Most merit pay schemes are based on standardized test scores, which do a good job measuring whether a student can pass a standardized test. This may not be what is most important in an education. Standardized tests generally test the lowest level thinking skills such as recalling facts, understanding the main idea of a reading or knowing a vocabulary word. It is very expensive to create a test that gets at whether a student can think creatively, construct argument logically and apply skills to new situations. If teacher know that they will be evaluated based on the lower level skills, that is what they will teach. That is not an education I want our students getting.

2. Merit pay could also create some perverse incentives in a school. Teachers would fight to get the easiest students who pose the fewest problems. Even if adjusted for what skills the student had previously, teachers might fight to get rid of individual "problem" children.

3. Merit pay could have corrosive effects on morale. Generally, teachers work on teams. As a social studies teacher, my students' test scores will be better if the English teacher on my team is good. Teachers would push principals to put the best teachers on the same team, and stick the new teachers or poor teachers on their own team. Ideally, teams would consist of teachers who could help one another, but merit pay could hurt this dynamic.

This is not to say that teacher pay/tenure shouldn't be based on student achievement. It should be, but not only using test scores. Teacher evaluations from Principals, peer evaluations (teachers could go to other schools and evaluate other teachers) and even student feedback could all be taken into account. Also, changing the formats of tests so that they more closely align with the skills and knowledge students actually need will increase their efficacy.

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The Future of Capitalism replies:

That Manhattan Institute piece made some of the same points, I just thought it was interesting to see it coming from that source.

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