Merit pay isn’t something people have opinions about – it’s something they have strong opinions about. Teacher unions, educators, administrators, mayors, anyone else vaguely familiar with the American education system – a lot of people are talking about what used to be strictly opposed by unions across the nation. Newark, New Jersey’s headline-making adoption of the merit pay system means the country will be watching.
The Newark system gives teachers a $5,000 bonus if they are rated “highly effective.” And there’s even more money in it for math and science teachers and teachers in low-performing schools. Love or hate the idea, there’s at least one problem: the bonus money comes from the $100 million Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated to Newark schools in 2010.
Washington D.C. – which has been a lightning rod for school reform criticism and praise – has been practicing performance pay in both salaries and bonuses for a few years. Money for D.C.’s merit pay is coming, in part, from millions of dollars from private foundations. Of the districts in the United States practicing merit pay, many times the money comes from donations and/or federal grants. Is this model really feasible without the help of donors like Zuckerberg, a man so rich he makes Scrooge McDuck look like Oliver Twist?
Big paydays and public calls for merit pay by teachers themselves could earn more support for merit pay, drive those with deep pockets to make donations and make governments more likely to provide grants. But that won’t do anything to quell the argument that merit pay discourages collaboration between teachers and that educators are trying their best regardless of salary, so the promise of a bonus is pointless.
Are you in a district that practices merit pay? Would you like to be, or are you glad you’re not? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.