Merit Pay, continued
Stepping back from the weeds of the merit pay debate, it’s kind of amazing to survey the arguments against compensating teachers based on performance and realize that this stuff literally wouldn’t fly in any other context. Can you imagine an entire industry deciding that its employees aren’t motivated by financial incentives and, as a result, should only get promotions based on seniority and outside accreditation? It sounds absurd on face, but that’s the current state of affairs in many school districts.
Another argument that would be laughable in any other profession is that teacher achievement is just too hard to quantify (see here or here), making any merit-based pay scale unfair and vulnerable to favoritism. Leaving aside the fact that it is possible assess teacher quality despite demographic and environmental factors, I think anyone who has ever held down a job recognizes that favoritism, personal connections, and outside circumstances play a role in determining workplace success. But that doesn’t stop every other organization on the planet from at least trying to measure employee performance for the purposes of assigning compensation. We embrace this system – warts and all – because it works; employees who get rewarded for performance are, on balance, more successful and productive.
Obviously, education – like every other profession – has to contend with certain unique conditions. This is why no one is suggesting we hand out assessment forms to students and parents at the end of each year to determine teacher salaries. But the fact that paying educators based on performance is still a controversial proposition reflects a vast (and, in my view, unwarranted) disconnect between how we view teachers and how we view the rest of the workforce. I think this is hugely problematic, which is why we should start asking ourselves why teacher compensation is treated differently than every other employee’s paycheck.