Social Question

LostInParadise's avatar

Should teacher's salary be based on merit pay?

Asked by LostInParadise (17972 points ) September 13th, 2012

The biggest gripe that the striking Chicago teachers have is the proposed requirement of having part of their pay based on student scores on standardized tests. I am not myself a teacher, but I am an academic by inclination. My first reaction to merit pay is that it is demeaning to teachers. Teachers should be treated like professionals. We don’t pay doctors, lawyers or engineers based on merit pay. We have enough of a problem retaining qualified teachers, without further humiliation. Instead of dismantling the No Child Left Behind fiasco, we are building on it.

There is an alternative. For the last several years the Finnish school system has finished at or near the top among Western school systems in international testing. There are of course important differences between Finnish and American cultures, but it is worth noting that the Finns achieve their school success by essentially doing the exact opposite of U.S. schools. Why is nobody paying attention?

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28 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

Why is no one paying attention? Because Americans think they are different and no one else’s system will work here. Also, frankly, because we (mistakenly) believe we are better.

I hope that’s your real question, because I don’t want to answer the merit pay question. On the one hand, I think that merit can not be fairly determined. It’s a game. It’s disruptive. So it’s best not to have it at all.

On the other hand, it would be nice for people to be recognized for excellence.

On the third hand, it would be demoralizing to see others recognized for excellence when I have been passed by and I don’t see what they do that I don’t do.

But you don’t really care about that, do you?

marinelife's avatar

Good question. Worth an editorial in Chicago newspapers.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Abolish teacher’s unions.

Everything will then fall properly into place.

josie's avatar

Nobody will say the obvious. Many public schools are worthless because many of the students do not give a shit. Many such students are part of the urban “culture”, although certainly some are not. But usually that is because they are emulating urban culture.

It is not relevent why they do not give a shit. Nobody can know that. They simply do not.

But the problem is that taxpayers not only have to pay for the school, they then have to pay for the academic failures that leave these schools, dress like clowns or hookers, can not speak the language of commerce, are afflicted with subclinical sociopathy, and are generally not employable.

Taxpayers are tired of this. Politically, you can not cut off the misfits that graduate and can not read or add a couple of numbers. You can not blame their incompetent parents either, since this is regarded as veiled racism, even though there are plenty of equally inept whites parents.

So what is left. Evade the truth, and blame the teachers. For shame.

wundayatta's avatar

The problem, @josie, is that even though research shows parents have the most influence on child academic success, as you say, we can’t control or influence parents very well. All we can do is run schools as best we know how. I think you are right that it is not the teachers fault. They explain only about ten percent of student behavior. Schools explain some. Community explains some. Wealth explains some. But the largest chunk of student performance is explained by parental involvement.

In fact there are things you can do to encourage parental involvement. Some schools in my town run a kind of boot camp for parents where they explain to parents what is required of them. They must do volunteer work at school. They must supervise homework. A bunch of other stuff. It works.

dabbler's avatar

The worst part of that proposal is that teachers’ merit is based on “student scores on standardized tests”. I’d protest that.
They are feeble measures of student ability or achievement in the first place, and pinning the scores of a roomful of kids on the hapless teacher stuck with them is idiotic.

josie's avatar

@wundayatta My point is, you cannot create parental involvement. It is either there or it is not. The only way I can think of to stimulate parental involvement is to stigmatize apathetic parents and permit social/moral condemnation of them until they can not stand the scrutiny and pressure. But that approach eventually becomes a political debate about race. And thus it becomes a total non starter. What elected politician is going to say “We will fix the problem by morally condemning stupid parents”? None, because somebody will claim that this is code language for black parents. Game over.

wundayatta's avatar

@josie I was working with a researcher who was studying this issue. She told me that you can create parental involvement, and I outlined how it is done at the school she studied. You don’t have to use shame. Shame never works, anyway. If you set an expectation, people will live up to it. It has to be part of the culture of the school. It has to be exciting and reward people who participate as opposed to shaming those who don’t. The reward needs to be intrinsic, though—social capital, for example—not something concrete.

This is what seems to be working at several schools in my city. The studies are qualitative so far, so I guess no one has made the quantitative proof that it works that way. Which means I could be wrong. But it’s a story I believe.

josie's avatar

@wundayatta
Shame indeed works. I have seen it work on the battlefield, an outrageous circumstance to be sure, but it works.
I will argue that shame itself sets an expectation, if the basis for moral condemnation is rational. But I also know I will not win this argument on this site. Anyway, GA.

wundayatta's avatar

Ok, it works, but only in the short run. It has long term side effects that really mess people up. Shame was used on me, and it turned a pretty smart guy who does very well at almost anything he choses to do into a guy who feels worthless and incompetent who should probably just kill himself.

Why use shame when other techniques work as well (in the long run), don’t have the negative side effects, and you don’t have to create resentment and low self esteem to get what you want.

Sure, on the battlefield, it’s whatever works now. I can understand that. Although I would still much prefer to get my people to perform for me in another way if I could. I am an instinctive shamer because I was brought up that way. It is a daily battle for me not to use that on my kids. I have to struggle to be aware of what I am doing all the time. I think shame is a built in tool for humankind.

But I think it is not the best tool in the long run. And we use it at our peril in the short term. And you see what happens to soldiers when they come home—how many psychological problems they have. I’m sure you’ve experienced them yourself, and maybe even struggle with them secretly. Huge stigma to psychological trauma and many many soldiers will never admit to anything being wrong.

Shame is just a part of that culture that leads to these issues. And many people who suffer because of it deny it and deny it, saying it really never hurt them. They survived. They turned out all right. Well, sure. But at what cost? Especially, what hidden cost?

wonderingwhy's avatar

I’m hardly an educator, I don’t even play one on TV, but I don’t think approaching the problem from just the side of teacher pay is going to have a meaningful effect on the system or its results. I’m actually ok with a base + merit pay scale but I disagree with the idea that the merit system should be tied to test scores, or at least not solely to them. I imagine that thought goes far beyond what the strike in Chicago is seeking to address and probably says a little about your question of why is nobody paying attention.

It may be less that no one is paying attention but rather people want to be seen as solving problems (politicians) or focused on addressing their own needs (faculty, administrators).

Sorry if my comment is addressed in your link, I’ve not had time to read it yet but look forward to doing so, thanks in advance for posting it.

Linda_Owl's avatar

A teacher’s salary should NOT be linked to Standardized Test scores – this is a disservice to the teachers & to the students. The whole idea of ‘standardized tests’ is ridiculous. The education system in the US is now teaching students how to pass these ‘standardized tests’ instead of teaching the students to actually be able to THINK. Our teachers deserve our respect & our support.

YARNLADY's avatar

Merit pay, yes – measured by Standardized tests, NO

creative1's avatar

I agree with @YARNLADY and add they should look at the overall teaching and not standardized tests because kids are all different and learn differently. They should be looking at the overall content and way a teacher interacts with their students and ask the question do they try to inspire that learning aspect in their students. Because a teacher has the type of influence to either squash a childs want for knowledge or inspire them to want to learn as much as the possibly can. I mean if the teacher is passionate and finds new and intriguing whys to bring that love of learning to the child it is priceless and they should be paid accordingly.

Sunny2's avatar

That depends on how the merit is determined. If you base it only on student achievement tests, that leaves out any teacher who works with students who are disadvantaged physically or mentally and who have little possibility of achieving normally.

abundantlife's avatar

No it shouldn’t be merit based. The students are not the same. Some wants to learn and others want to play. How can you decide the salary based on that.

LostInParadise's avatar

Let me play devils’ advocate with regard to some of the objections raised. Yes, student performance depends on factors other than the teacher, such as student ability and motivation, financial circumstances and home life. The teacher’s ability does play some role and we can gauge that role by averaging over a large number of students. Since family income is such a big factor, we could give different goals based on it.

My objection is the assumption that the best way to increase teacher performance is by pay incentives. There are some highly motivated and capable teachers. Many of them see teaching as a calling. To tell them that their performance can be improved based on student grades is demeaning. There are also, unfortunately, some some teachers who are not highly qualified, who pretty much fell into the profession for lack of anything else they could do. It is questionable how much better such teachers would do if given higher pay based on student test scores.

What should be done is to weed out the slackers and provide more training for teachers. By requiring a master’s degree, Finland has gone a long ways toward accomplishing those tasks. They have made it more difficult to become a teacher and also raised teacher salaries. The result has been to create pride in becoming a teacher, treating it like a true profession. Teachers are given great latitude in how they conduct their classes. There is little in the way of standardized testing. The result was to raise student performance to among the best in the world.

dabbler's avatar

@LostInParadise “Hear! Hear!” to treating teaching like a profession.

If the $$ that has been put into all the stupid “testing” had instead been put into classroom resources, lifelong training, and maybe a bit of pay, then good teachers would not be so tempted to do something else to make a living.

tedd's avatar

Frankly if I were in charge of the world, teachers would be making 6 digit incomes right out of college. I would severely cut back on spending for making campus’ beautiful, administration staff, and somewhat I would cut back on materials (you don’t need constant new books or what have you). I would also end summer break. But the big thing, teachers need to be making a lot of money.

Right now you have a lot of dedicated people who would teach if it were free, but they’re not always the people who would make the best teachers. A lot of the best and brightest minds in our country go to be doctors, or pharmacists, or lawyers, or nuclear engineers.. because that’s where the money is. If suddenly there was money in teaching, you would see a lot of those people go that route instead. It would come with vigorous standards, but much higher incomes.

The way I’ve always seen it, is that the guy who delivers my grand-children at birth, the doctor who will eventually perform a life saving surgery on me when I’m older, one of the future presidents of the US…. are all in school somewhere right now. I would frankly like to have the best, happiest teacher possible educating them.

dabbler's avatar

If we in the U.S. channelled a fraction of the resources that we routinely commit to weapons, and using them, instead to: education and the state department, it couldn’t help but increase the security, and probably the prosperity, of the citizens and the markets alike.

How about making education free though university free for qualified individuals?
Best investment possible for society and businesses of all sizes.

bkcunningham's avatar

Throwing money at the educational system in the US doesn’t improve the education of our children.

wundayatta's avatar

@bkcunningham I don’t understand the context of your statement. Is someone throwing money at the education system? Who? How much? Is there any way I can get them to give me some?

bkcunningham's avatar

It wasn’t in context, @wundayatta. I just threw it out there. It is raining and I can’t go to the pool. That is silly within itself. What? Am I afraid I’ll get wet? Ha. Anyway, my statement is a fact. Out of context, but a fact all the same.

wundayatta's avatar

@bkcunningham Well, whatever. With no context I can’t begin to understand what you are talking about. Sorry about the rain. Is there a museum you could go to? Or a movie theater?

bkcunningham's avatar

Yes, but it is after 8 p.m., and since it is raining I don’t want to have to put my sunbrella down on my golf cart and drive in the rain. I’ll just Fluther until bedtime. Thank you for the suggestion though. :~)

Have you ever heard of Kansas City Desegregation Experiment?

wundayatta's avatar

Decisions, decisions. Well, here we are, staying home and fluthering on a Friday night. What a life!

dabbler's avatar

Sure throwing money at the educational system is as crazy as throwing money at terrorism.

But cuts have been severe enough for someone more focused to notice several areas where restoring funding would in fact improve education for the people we force through it.
Music and arts are cheap compared to sports.
Good shop and lab classes cost money but lead to fuller employment of better-qualified graduates, and a better resource for industry.

But I’d agree that hiring more administrators will not improve anyone’s lives.

bkcunningham's avatar

@dabbler, excellent points.

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