General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

Merit pay for teachers - Some people think teachers' pay should be increased if their students do well on tests - Are you in favor of merit pay?

Asked by mattbrowne (31640points) April 8th, 2009

This is a social questions to start a thoughtful discussion and explore the pros and cons of introducing merit pay for teachers.

From Wikipedia: Merit pay is a term describing performance-related pay, most frequently in the context of educational reform. It provides bonuses for workers who perform their jobs better, according to measurable criteria. In the United States, policy makers are divided on whether merit pay should be offered to public school teachers, as is commonly the case in the United Kingdom.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial world-wide test of 15-year-old school children’s scholastic performance, the implementation of which is coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

An evaluation of the 2003 results showed that the countries which spent more on education did not necessarily do better than those which spent less. Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands spent less but did relatively well, whereas the United States spent much more but was below the OECD average. The Czech Republic, in the top ten, spent only one third as much per student as the United States did, for example, but the USA came 24th out of 29 countries compared.

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30 Answers

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I think merit pay would be an interesting idea, although I would be worried about teachers teaching the test, and not the subject matter. But then again, perhaps test-taking should be taught.

Poser's avatar

As a victim of public school standardized tests, I’d say no. Teachers “teach to the test” far too much as it is, and as a result, students learn enough to pass the tests, and no more.

I do like the idea of merit pay, but I believe the tests should be set up so as to prevent the teachers knowing what is going to be on them.

qashqai's avatar

Merit pay could work only if it would be based on standard tests nationwide. Otherwise teachers would just ease their exams, resulting in better grades for their students and ultimately more money to them. Students will not gain anything from that. That’s not a win-win strategy.

MissAusten's avatar

I’d say no. Standardizes tests already have too much importance placed on them. My daughter’s school seems to go a good job of balancing test preparation and “regular” schoolwork, but I’d say she still brings home at least one or two worksheets a week that are clearly preparation for the CMT. So my kid can take a test well—can she think creatively and apply what she’s learned to solve new problems? Will she go to college prepared for the coursework? How do you test for that?

Jack79's avatar

In theory no, I’m not. Because it turns the lesson into a product, and often education is not just about passing exams. On the other hand, there should be some sort of way to check upon teachers and make sure they’re doing their job well. The issue is quite problematic.

Having said that, I do receive bonuses related to my students’ performance. Unfortunately, the school I teach in is goal-oriented and the parents bring their kids there to get certificates, regardless of knowledge. They prefer me because I get the job done, and all of my students (even the laziest ones) have passed their exams so far. The average passing rate is 40%, with me it’s over 90%. So the school makes money off me, and I get a pay rise every time the results come out. I’m currently making double of the basic salary I started off with 5 years ago.

And I do my best to also inspire them and perhaps instill some knowledge that may not necessarily be tested.

sdeutsch's avatar

I like the idea of merit pay, because I do think that the good teachers should be rewarded for their work, but I agree that basing it on test scores is not the way to go. The big push to raise standardized test scores (at least around here) happened in between when I was in school and when my sister started, and the quality of her education was drastically lower than mine (my mom ended up home-schooling her for 5 years because of it). Anything that makes teachers teach the test and nothing else is a bad idea, in my opinion…

If there was a way for merit pay to be based on the teacher’s actual ability to teach the curriculum and not the test, I’d be all for it. Maybe something like an impartial observer sitting in on a few classes and evaluating the teacher’s abilities that way – it would take a lot more time and resources than just looking at test scores, but I think it’d be much more accurate, and better for the students’ educations overall.

mattbrowne's avatar

Here’s an interesting overview of pros and cons I found on the web, see link to the source below:


1) Virtually everyone agrees that designing and monitoring a Merit Pay program would be a bureaucratic nightmare of almost epic proportions. Many major questions would have to be adequately answered before educators could even consider implementing Merit Pay for teachers. Such deliberations would inevitably take away from our real goal which is to focus on the students and give them the best education possible.

2) Good will and cooperation between teachers will be compromised. In places that have previously tried variations of Merit Pay, the results have often been unpleasant and counter-productive competition between teachers. Where teachers once worked as a team and shared solutions cooperatively, Merit Pay can make teachers adopt a more “I’m out for myself only” attitude. This would be disastrous for our students, no doubt.

3) Success is difficult, if not impossible, to define and measure. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has already proven how the various unleveled playing fields in the American education system inherently set up a wide variety of standards and expectations. Consider the diverse needs of English Language Learners, Special Education Students, and low income neighborhoods, and you’ll see why it would be opening a messy can of worms to define standards of success for American schools when the stakes are cash in the pockets of real teachers.

4) Opponents to Merit Pay argue that a better solution to the current educational crisis is to pay all teachers more. Rather than design and regulate a messy Merit Pay program, why not simply pay teachers what they are already worth?

5) High-stakes Merit Pay systems would inevitably encourage dishonesty and corruption. Educators would be financially motivated to lie about testing and results. Teachers might have legitimate suspicions of principal favoritism. Complaints and lawsuits would abound. Again, all of these messy morality issues serve only to distract from the needs of our students who simply need our energies and attentions to learn to read and success in the world.


1) Americans value hard work and results, and our capitalist system hinges upon rewarding such results. Most professions offer bonuses and salary increases to exemplary employees. Why should teaching be the exception? The fact that a sloppy teacher and a dedicated teacher earn the same salary just doesn’t sit right with most people.

2) Incentivized teachers will work harder and produce better results. What motivation do teachers currently have to go above and beyond the job’s basic requirements? The simple possibility of extra cash would most likely translate into smarter teaching and better results for our children.

3) Merit Pay programs will help recruit and retain the nation’s brightest minds. It’s the odd teacher who hasn’t considered leaving the classroom and entering the corporate workplace for the twin benefits of less hassle and more money potential. Particularly intelligent and effective teachers might reconsider leaving the profession if they felt that their extraordinary efforts were being recognized in their paychecks.

4) Teachers are already underpaid. Merit Pay would help address this injustice. Teaching is due for a renaissance of respect in this country. How better to reflect the esteemed way we feel about educators than through paying them more? And the highest performing teachers should be first in line for this financial recognition.

5) We are in the middle of a teaching shortage. Merit pay would inspire potential teachers to give the profession more consideration as a viable career choice, rather than a personal sacrifice for the higher good. By tying teaching salaries to performance, the profession would look more modern and credible, thus attracting young college graduates to the classroom.

6) With American schools in crisis, shouldn’t we be open to trying almost anything new in the hopes of making a change? If the old ways of running schools and motivating teachers aren’t working, perhaps it’s time to think outside of the box and try Merit Pay. In a time of crisis, no valid ideas should be quickly denied as possible solution.

Mr_M's avatar

I would HATE to be a student taught by teachers who were getting merit pay based on my grades. Did you ever work for a boss who was getting merit pay based on his department’s productivity?

Will it make more students drop out?

wundayatta's avatar

Competition amongst teachers: instead of individual level competition which destroy cooperation—it is possible to design a compensation scheme that rewards cooperation as well as individual effort. There could be a school-wide incentive; a team incentive; and an individual incentive. Companies often play with various incentive schemes designed to foster cooperation as well as competition, although not necessarily in a thoughtful way.

Underpayment of teachers: the argument is that teachers are underpaid, which I find ironic. If teachers were underpaid, you’d think they’d go into other, more highly compensated jobs. Oddly, the teachers who go to some of the more progressive (private) schools, get paid significantly less than their public school counterparts. In addition, if money is diverted to incentives, and the incentive scheme is designed poorly, there could be too much or too little incentive money paid out, resulting in budgetary problems for the school system.

Funding the system: if we do raise every teacher’s salary, where will we get the money? In almost every area where they need to improve the schools the most (i.e., poor areas), the people are screaming already about high property taxes. Property taxes fund the bulk of school spending. Some states have attempted to even things out by using state funds to equalize spending, but this is a rare thing, and it doesn’t do all that much, even when it is in place. Instituting more merit pay would probably mean changing the funding system for public schools, and how likely is that?

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i think the problem of only learning what’s on the test would definitely come up. also, a lot of students are dreadfully horrible test takers. i wouldn’t like the idea that a teacher i think is great could be getting less pay than another because i was having a shitty testing day, or because there are kids who don’t like them.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

How do you measure merit? Tests measure test taking ability and are are measured on a curve instead of a straight line in most places in the USA. If they were measured in the percentage of knowledge gained they might mean something. When they are on a curve they have no meaning at all except relative to the other members in the classroom. So no matter how well the teacher teaches under such a grading system he can do no better.

Likeradar's avatar

Teaching doesn’t happen in a vacuum… a great, motivated, creative teacher can help students achieve a whole lot, but there are so many other factors (parents, money, natural abilities, etc) that come into play. Merit pay is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s practical or fair.

gimmedat's avatar

I think it’s a bad idea. Being a public school teacher and an active member of my teacher’s association, I would love to debate the pros and cons of merit pay and various other forms of alternative compensation packages, but to what end? Teachers are charged with an amazing array of responsibilities everyday. If society realized the value of quality teachers and demanded that state governments funded this integral resource, the debate would be unnecessary.

Dog's avatar

I would like to add that finding good teachers willing to work in the inner city schools is difficult enough as is. To add merit pay where inner- city teachers compete for better pay against teachers whose students are not struggling for mere survival will increase the shortage.

Teachers deal with a lot more than teaching.

The teachers whose students are struggling in poverty and have more obstacles to learning should not be penalized financially.

mattbrowne's avatar

@walterallenhaxton – How do we measure performance of top managers? Shareholder value? Driving up the share price short term, collect the huge bonus and then blame it someone else when the company is broke 2 years later because innovation budget were cut and new talent was not hired. It’s always difficult to measure merit, and this includes teaching of course.

wundayatta's avatar

@mattbrowne—this reminds me that the ideal way to evaluate learning is to check with people later on in life, and see how much that learning has enabled them to do what they want. I was going to say how much money they made, but I don’t think that’s an appropriate metric. One way of measuring this would be to measure the strength of their social capital, as shown by the role they play in their social network. This would make hermit bring the schools reputation down, which also wouldn’t work.

Let’s face it. There’s no good way to determine the merit of any one particular teacher. Any measurement mechanism fails in other important ways.

thatoneguy4's avatar

Yes, because the teacher has worked hard, so the kids are actually learning something.

Judi's avatar

@dog; Like you said!!! much lurve.

Likeradar's avatar

@thatoneguy4 Do you think teachers of students who don’t do so well on standardized tests don’t work hard?

RedPowerLady's avatar

As I don’t believe in standardized testing. And I don’t believe in education focused on standardized testing, it cheats students of a well-rounded education. Then I would say absolutely not. Although I do sincerely believe that teachers should be paid more. If we want students to score better on tests I think we should put more money in our education system and give teachers more resources to work with.

wundayatta's avatar

The problem with merit determination on the basis of unquantifiable factors is that people see it as prejudiced. The principal will give the increases to his or her friends.

I wonder if there are ways to get around this notion of favoritism. I was thinking that if all the teachers had a say in the evaluation process, they might feel there was less favoritism, but then I thought they could all give everyone the same ratings, and/or they could pick on colleagues they really didn’t like. Although, if the evaluations were secret, they might have a hard time giving the same evaluations, even if they talked about it.

It could also become a popularity contest, and teachers would run around trying to be friends with others, instead of spending time teaching. And those who focused on teaching might be seen to be aloof, and not worth voting for.

Anyway, there’s problems with all evaluation systems, if you are trying to be fair and transparent. If schools were a dictatorship, then the dictator could decide, and no one could say anything about it. Public schools aren’t run that way, though. At least, in theory.

Judi's avatar

Maybe giving the school “team” a merit increase based on year to year increase in test scores. The bonus would be shared equally among the teachers and it would only be competing with their prior years performance, not schools with demographic advantages. It would also encourage cooperation rather than competition. Another advantage is that schools that had the most room for improvement would have the most opportunity for bonuses and reward people for succeeding in the most challenging schools.
I still have a problem with teaching to the test though. I want my grand kids to know how to think more than I want them to know how to take a test.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Judi Quote: “I still have a problem with teaching to the test though.”

Me too!

Although I think your idea is a fair idea I still can’t get around the idea of teaching to test.

cak's avatar

We have that problem, now. Lucky for my kids, they are in schools that are trying a different approach.

There is a payment based on test performance in place here, already. In January, most of the schools in the county, really start teaching the test. They continue to teach the other things – but they really teach the tests. In fact, workbooks come out, pep rallies and all kinds of reminder calls, notes and meetings.

I’m very happy my children aren’t in that this year, they still have the test, but they are doing a study to see how they are, without the change in teaching plans. So far, they are ahead of the game, across the board and exceeding the expectations of the entire year.

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – I also think it’s extremely difficult. What else could be done to improve the quality of teaching? We all know there are few great teachers, many good teachers, and a few lousy teachers. How can we confront the lousy teachers? Going to parent-teacher conferences?

walterallenhaxton's avatar

To Mattbrowne. How do you do that @ thing? Share value is another false measuring stick. You should be looking at profit/share and two years is too short a time. We have to be careful to use the right measuring stick. If a teacher were graded on a straight line A teachers would have to get 90% of the information in a course into 90% of the kids measured by a battery of tests covering the information covered in the course.

Dog's avatar

@walterallenhaxton Welcome to Fluther!

mattbrowne's avatar

@walterallenhaxton – It’s called the at sign. Can’t you see it on your keyboard? You actually have to type only a few letters. Fluther will offer you a list and you simply hit return. So as an example: Type @ma and then return.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@mattbrowne I was going to try just typing it in but when I typed the @ sign the names came up. Thank You for answering me.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@Dog Thank you. I don’t know if I fit in but I am here for now.

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