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Merit Pay Would Not Improve Student Learning

Merit Pay Would Not Improve Student Learning

"America needs true innovators, and the best way to achieve this is to NOT use merit pay that restricts creative and truly innovative teaching."

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The philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said, “The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher.” Hubbard was absolutely right. A teacher’s goals should be to teach students to be independent, think innovatively and have the tools to improve our country. Unfortunately, paying teachers based on student test scores prohibits this kind of teaching.
This is why I don’t support merit pay for teachers.
The problem with merit pay for teachers is that it doesn’t actually incentivize improvement in learning–it doesn’t allow teachers to really teach students analytical or creative thought. With merit pay, teacher salaries become tied to student performance based on evaluation measures like standardized test scores.
As anyone who has taken the OGT or OAA knows, these tests are not really a great way to measure the intelligence or knowledge of a student. They rarely ask truly analytical or critical questions, as a study from Temple University found, and many students can learn strategies for maximizing their scores rather than actually mastering the material.

When teachers are paid based on merit, they are obviously going to start teaching to the test and how to pass it or, even worse, they will engage in cheating. This has been scientifically proven countless times, most recently in a research paper from Harvard University that evaluated a merit pay program in New York City.

Instead of teaching test-taking strategies, teachers should focus on teaching students how to approach problems and come up with creative solutions. This is the only way for United States students, who have just learned a ton of facts that they cannot really interpret, to compete with foreign students. Merit pay does not encourage that creativity; it focuses attention on superficial scores generated by flawed exams.

Our teachers should not be incentivized to cheat and they certainly should not be incentivized to turn us into mere fact robots. America needs students who can go beyond just facts (though facts are obviously important). America needs true innovators, and the best way to achieve this is to NOT use merit pay that restricts creative and truly innovative teaching.

Our education system is not without flaws. We obviously need to improve parental involvement, lure talented graduates into teaching and improve American students’ ability to think analytically rather than robotically. But paying teachers based on performance on standardized tests certainly is not going to help our situation.

To put it simply, merit pay will develop a nation of followers, while allowing truly creative teaching will develop a nation of leaders.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Merit Pay Would Not Improve Student Learning”

  1. Maryam on October 3rd, 2012 11:02 pm

    I’m not from Beachwood, but I think this is an important discussion.

    From the article: “Hubbard was absolutely right. A teacher’s goals should be to teach students to be independent, think innovatively and have the tools to improve our country.”

    1] And how does a merit-based pay change these goals? Teachers can STILL and should teach students independence and innovation, and in fact, it would seem that this pressure would only be a motivation for them to do so. I don’t think the writer’s characterization or generalization of all standardized exams is a fair one, for surely the SAT tests analytical and critical thinking skills. OGT is not representative. The SAT is not flawed or superficial, and is well-recognized. In fact, GPA can be skewed, and one of the purposes of the SAT is to balance or make up for this. The AP exams (especially the AP sciences) also tests skill and approach, and not just information.

    2] Our country is a meritocracy, and not some sort of a monarchy where the old teachers get to stay solely for the fact that they have been there the longest. A teacher who cannot teach or does not possess the passion for the profession simply should find another job, for teaching affects us on a societal level. Teaching affects kids— the future generation. It shouldn’t be a selfish profession.

    3] The argument that a merit-based pay would make teachers want to cheat and hence we should abandon the approach is ludicrous. Cheating is a breach of law and a reflection on character, and professional adults who engage in it should be punished. It shouldn’t be seen as justifiable, excusable, or deserving of our empathy. That’s like saying “we shouldn’t have freedoms because that would provoke those who hate freedom to attack us.”

    As a student who has had her share of terrible experiences with not-so-skilled teachers, I wholeheartedly support a merit-based pay, and I certainly believe it will help less privileged city schools that have a conspicuous negative disparity when it comes to education and not just the “bubbled” Beachwoods and Solons of our nation.


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