Is the Resistance to Merit Pay Changing?

Tiffany Johnson, a special-education teacher, got a large raise after earning the rating “highly effective” for two years in a row. Image courtesy of Shannon Jensen/The New York Times

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.

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2 Responses to “Is the Resistance to Merit Pay Changing?”

  1. Letha SievekingJanuary 6, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Why are teachers not already paid for leading clubs. I dont see how pay for just attending a basketball game is right either. Sharing with other teachers is pretty much expected in my school and I am not paid for my ideas.

  2. Brynn CodyJanuary 4, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    A school system near where I work uses a merit based bous system. They earn points throughout the year by doing things like going to ball games, creating material to share with teachers, leading an unpaid club, etc. Things are worth different points. Then at the end of the year they look at the total number of points earned by all teachers and how much money was set aside for the bonus and they come up with a $/point that is added on to your salary. I think if merit pay is used for bonuses it is a great idea, but of course when people hear merit pay they think they will make less if their students don't pass the test. That's clearly a dumb idea and would never be put into practice as the sole deciding factor of how much your salary is. Merit pay should not, however, be used to lower the regular salary and then dangled as the only way to earn your normal money. I'm mostly for merit pay bonuses.