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Paying Teachers for Performance Would Improve Student Learning

Paying Teachers for Performance Would Improve Student Learning

"A merit system, similar to what most workers in every industry have, would only grant raises to teachers who actually deserve it."


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In early September, teachers in one of the nation’s largest school districts “walked-out,” leaving around 400,000 Chicago kids either out of school or in very costly temporary programs.

The primary issues causing the strike included a new teacher evaluation system. According to the agreement that ended the strike, teachers are to be paid on a system that is 30% “merit-based,” that is, evaluating teachers based on student test scores. However, this deal was not as much merit-based as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and many other education reformers are pushing for.

Cities like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and even the City of Cleveland are working with teachers unions on behalf of students to accomplish some level of merit pay reform. This system has some very obvious appeal: it will allow the best teachers to make more money, not just the teachers that have been in the district longest. By doing this, school districts could save money, allowing more effective investment in education.

This is defined by one of the most fundamental principles of economics, which is the importance and response to “incentives.” At the simplest level, this means giving people a reason to do something. Without merit pay, other than for the “good of teaching,” what real or tangible benefit do teachers have to actually teach?

Following such a principle, merit pay attempts to answer that question. A merit system, similar to what most workers in every industry have, would only grant raises to teachers who actually deserve it. In Beachwood, we do not have a lot of poor-performing teachers, but test scores suggest that many districts aren’t adequately educating their students.  Perhaps teachers in these districts are losing dedication and putting in less effort because of a guaranteed job and raises for seniority.  Merit pay would help motivate these teachers.

An example of this working is the North Carolina incentives system. According to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, teachers in North Carolina took fewer sick days, standardized test scores increased and the program was four times more effective than reducing class sizes dollar for dollar. If more states and districts adopted a similar program, our nation’s overall scores would surely increase.

A Sept. 10th article published by the Brookings Institution, a notably liberal source, states, “the public should not tolerate damage to the education of disadvantaged students resulting from a strike over disagreements about teachers’ salaries, benefits, job security, and method of evaluation.” The public needs to take action against undedicated teachers who choose to put their own well-being above their students’ educations. Merit pay would be the best solution.

In all, merit pay would provide much needed, bipartisan supported, education reform. Not just for administrators or taxpayers, but more importantly, for the students. In order to ensure the next generation of citizens is as educated as possible, Americans have a responsibility to push for merit-based pay for teachers.

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One Response to “Paying Teachers for Performance Would Improve Student Learning”

  1. Aubrey Deaton on December 16th, 2012 2:07 pm

    Hello! I am a Journalism and English teacher in Louisville Kentucky. As a second year teacher, I am obviously not making as much money as veteran teachers. I am from Aurora Ohio, obviously a very suburban community. I loved going to AHS and I knew I wanted to be a teacher since 2nd grade. I am now married to a Spanish teacher and we had to move to Louisville because of job openings. I always thought that a merit system seemed great, since I work extremely hard at my job and I know that others don’t. However I want you to take something into consideration. You attend Beechwood High School. Inner city Chicago schools are NOTHING like where you live, shop and play. My inner city Louisville students do not even bring book bags or pencils to school. We have fights almost weekly, and parents who are not involved. We do not have enough money for several of our after school programs and the teachers are running out of ink and paper and supplies and it’s only December. My students swear at me and throw things across the room. They ask if I’m pregnant yet and tell me that I should go on welfare. My husband is the soccer coach and we are extremely dedicated. We stay long hours after school and show up for events that our students are in. So in your district’s case, yes the merit system would make sense. However, where schools are already low-performing, it is not because the teachers are not working hard enough or do not know what they are doing. In fact Chicago schools have almost 50 students per class. How many students do you have in one class at a time? My largest class this year was 34, and my room is very small. My students complain that there isn’t enough room and that they are uncomfortable. I can only imagine what 50 students in a room would feel like. Paying teachers based on merit will take away money from schools that are low achieving and leave us with even less. This is because the merit based system and rules will come from the state and district levels. Here in Louisville we have around 20 high schools, not one. So the better schools with students who actually care and come to school prepared will be paying their teachers way more and the teachers like me, in poverty areas will suffer. This will make people want to quit, not do better. In fact the comment that you made about the Chicago teachers caring more about themselves than the students is completely inaccurate. I wish I could make more money based on the time, effort and stress of my job. But if I still had to teach in a poverty area and receive merit based pay I would quit my job, and I can almost guarantee no one would want to replace me. This is a hot topic in education today and I do think you approached the topic well. However, a good argument also contains and counterclaim, so even though this is an editorial and may not have required one, it’s always good to research the other side.


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Paying Teachers for Performance Would Improve Student Learning