No merit in merit pay plan for teachers

If you have been following any of the Wildrose Party educational policies in Alberta, you will find that they are a supporter of merit pay in Education.

If you have been following any of the Wildrose Party educational policies in Alberta, you will find that they are a supporter of merit pay in Education.

What is merit pay? Teachers, and others in education, would be paid based on the results their students attain on standardized exams.

At first glance, this sounds great. If a business is rewarded with more profit, as their sales increase, why shouldn’t teachers get paid more if their results increase?

The problem?

We start in 1887 in Denver, Colo., where the government tested students to determine how much a teacher was worth.

David Berliner and Sharon Nichols wrote about this experience in Collateral Damage; here is an excerpt: “Another warning about the dangerous side effects of high-stakes testing surfaced, when a plan to pay teachers on the basis of their students’ scores was offered, making student test scores very high stakes for teachers. A schoolmaster noted that under these conditions, ‘a teacher knows that his whole professional status depends on the results he produces and he is really turned into a machine for producing these results; that is, I think unaccompanied by any substantial gain to the whole cause of education.’”

We then travel to mid 19th-century England, where a “payment by results” plan was implemented into the Education Act. Wade Nelson, a professor at Winona State University, summarized the evaluation saying “schools became impoverished learning environments in which nearly total emphasis on performance on the examination left little opportunity of learning.”

In The Public Interest, a right-wing policy journal, two researchers concluded with apparent disappointment in 1985 that no evidence supported the idea that merit pay “had an appreciable or consistent positive effect on teachers’ classroom work.”

Moreover, they reported that few administrators expected such an effect “even though they had the strongest reason to make such claims.”

Educational historians David Tyack and Larry Cuban have clearly stated that “the history of performance-based salary plans has been a merry-go-round. In the main, districts that initially embraced merit pay dropped it after a brief trial.” But even “repeated experiences” of failure haven’t prevented officials “from proposing merit pay again and again.”

Lastly, the Alberta Teachers Association opposes merit pay on the following grounds:

• no agreement exists on what constitutes “good” teaching;

• no reliable measure of teacher efficiency exists;

• merit pay undermines teacher morale;

• merit pay is not a quick-fix scheme for any ills that might affect a particular jurisdiction;

• it doesn’t save money;

• it is not a magic bullet for increasing student performance; and

• individual merit pay works for few organizations today because most emphasize teamwork and collegiality.

If we start basing salaries on the results of achievement in schools, then achievement, not learning, will be the focus.

David Martin

Red Deer