Merit Pay – In PWCS?!

Merit pay may be rearing it’s ugly head in PWC schools.

An effort is currently underway in PWCS to revise the manner in which teachers are assessed and compensated.  The committee meeting to develop the revised performance plan will be presenting it’s recommendations to the school board later this Winter.  One widely rumored aspect of that program is implementing a Merit Pay system.

Merit Pay is one of those things that sounds great on paper and can be highly effective if done properly.  But it’s rarely done properly and is so heavily subject to bias that it generally fails.

What is Merit Pay?  In theory merit pay is where teachers who excel are compensated for their hard work and exceptional teaching skills and teachers who struggle or fail, in theory, see their pay reduced.  It sounds great, in theory.  But theory and reality often don’t mix well.

How do you define whether a teacher excels or not?

Do you use test scores as an indicator of successful teaching?  What if the teacher had more lower performing students the year she was assessed and her test scores are lower as a result – will she see a pay cut?  What if a teacher had more higher performing students in her class and her test scores were higher – will she see a pay increase?

Do you give students an assessment at the beginning of the year and end of the year and judge success from the growth in test scores?  Is a teacher who brings her class from 40% competency to 80% competency performing better than a teacher who brings her students from 90% competency to 97% competency?  And if a teacher knows her salary will be based on her students test scores, how much incentive have we given her to manipulate the data by bending the rules to help her struggling students on their end of year assessment?

Do you survey parents and students? Is the tough teacher who sets high standards for her students and pushes them to exceed expectations better or worse than the teacher who doesn’t expect much from the kids and whose classrooms are lots of fun?  Are happy parents indicators of a teacher who excels, or a teacher who plays a good political game?

Do  you base her increase on a review by her Principal or Vice Principal?  What if the teacher simply has a different teaching style than the one preferred by the Principal – does that mean she’s a bad teacher?  As we’ve seen with the TERC Investigations experiment, many teachers who believe the program falls short of expectations have been forced to follow the program and keep their concerns to themselves by school administrators, while others have been given the autonomy to teach however they want.  If you have a teacher who hates Investigations or CMP  and an administrator who loves them, how do you decide who is right?  If the Principal’s assessment determines the teachers pay, how many teachers are going to be willing to speak up when their Principal effects changes that the teachers believe are detrimental to the students?

Do you make the determination based on a combination of all of the above – assessments, surveys, and reviews?  How much will gathering and compiling that data cost, and will the cost of gathering, compiling, and maintaining that data exceed the total of the merit pay increases slated for teachers?

What if 90% of the teachers are rated as excellent – do we increase the bucket of funds for merit increases or do we divide the bucket over a larger group of people and give teachers less for their merit increases?  If 90% of the teachers are rated as excellent, do we raise the standard so that only 50 – 75% are?

What if the school system has budget problems and needs to make cuts, much like PWCS has had to these last several years.  Fairfax County had a merit pay program for years that was constantly undermined because the school system needed to cut corners and cut the monies going to merit increases.  Eventually the cuts to the merit funds were so extensive that obtaining a merit increase meant you could afford to buy one  Happy Meal (that was sarcastic – you really could only afford the fries).

Apparently the group meeting to develop the new performance plan for PWCS teachers has met a grand total of 6 hours and will only meet one more time for 2 hours to hash out the final proposal.  How are the stakeholders involved in that meeting supposed to believe that their concerns and questions will be addressed when only one working day was allocated to developing the plan?

Merit Pay for teachers has a long and sordid history.  The articles linked below contain  just a couple of those examples:
What’s Wrong With Merit Pay

How Merit Pay Squelches Teaching

Yes, the means by which our teachers are compensated needs to be updated. Yes, we need to figure out a way to define excellence and reward it. Yes, we need to figure out how to identify and either improve or weed out under performing teachers. But 8 hours isn’t enough time to sort that out and expect the teachers to believe the program won’t be undermined by central administration trying to make ends meet.


2 Responses to “Merit Pay – In PWCS?!”

  1. Ed Says:

    They are only being introduced now as one more way to support the administrations totalitarian control over the teachers.
    In a few good schools, it will work to support great teachers. In the rest, the sub-standard admin will use it to maintain the status quo.

  2. PWC Teacher Says:

    QUESTION: What happens to teachers (such as myself) in classrooms with a majority of “low risk” students? Will they start clamoring to get into “high risk” schools and/or classrooms? It’s bad enough our principal selected her own teacher of the year when many teachers felt it wasn’t deserved. I can’t imagine a wider rift between teachers if merit pay is implemented.

    Grant Lattin, school board member representing the Occoquan district, was the one who initiated this effort according to the following article. Certain administrators/staff aren’t the only ones who need to be replaced in this town!

    “School board member Grant Lattin, who drafted the proposal, said that he hoped that performance pay could help close the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers. “Both President Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, have specifically mentioned this kind of a program in the last few weeks,” Lattin said. Under the scenario envisioned by Lattin, the pay method piloted in a limited number of schools in 2010-11 could be expanded from there.”

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