Those that are pushing for performance pay have a very controversial way to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Should a teacher get paid more because their students perform better on tests? According to Gallup, 73% of Americans seem to think so, while at the same time 81% said they should be paid by whatever advanced degree the teacher had earned. What?! Looks like the American public is confused.
First, standardized tests are not a reliable measure of what students can and cannot do. One, the students have no motivation to try on a test where there is no reward or grade. Second, each year teachers get a different mix of students. This year I could have very capable students, next year I could have many who need significant help. Different scores over the years are normal, and don't signify success or failure. Finally, standardized tests are inherently biased against non-white working class students. For example, a test question that uses tennis as its setting benefits the kind of student that has been exposed the most to tennis. Or, when students must interpret an archaic piece of literature or historical document riddled with cultural bias. Standardized tests are not, nor have ever been a reliable or valid form of assessment.
Those pushing merit pay disagree. California billionaire and public school meddler Eli Broad of the Broad Foundation paid for the first year of merit pay for NYC schools. Broad said
...urban public schools are failing and must adopt methods from business to succeed, such as competition, accountability based on 'measurables' and unhampered management authority--all focusing on the bottom line of student achievement, as measured by standardized tests.
Over half of all businesses fail in the first four years. We can't afford half of our schools to fail, Eli. Unfortunately, these are the people with the money, the voice, and the influence. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Broad and his followers are "reformers" or "visionaries".
The question remains though, can the possibility of more money increase teacher performance? It seems logical to us that yes, it would. If I could make another $20,000 by staying later and working on better lessons, I would. But, Dan Pink showed at TED that incentivizing difficult or cognitive tasks actually does the reverse of the intended outcome. When people focus on the monetary reward, they lose creativity and the ability to step back and think, decreasing performance. He used the example of Google's 20% time for employees, where 20% of employee time is devoted to working on whatever that employee wants, and where there was no incentive beyond the intrinsic. Unfortunately, intrinsic motivation cannot be fostered by the proverbial carrot. The carrot only works in low cognitive tasks such as an assembly line. For most teachers, motivation for teaching is intrinsic, not monetary.
Based on a study in Greece, teachers are professional/technical
Those findings are also confirmed by a Harvard study of New York's merit pay program. The study found no significant gains in student achievement, and little return for the investment in merit pay. Good job, Eli.
So, if the incentive of more money wouldn't work to increase student achievement, why do it? There is still the problem of half of all teachers leaving education in the first five years. Education needs to attract, and keep effective teachers. Paying a highly qualified teacher, who society has placed a great responsibility, less than a bagger at Trader Joe's is socially irresponsible.
The current pay scale for teachers rewards years of experience, and educational attainment level. It was created in a time where discrimination in the workplace was routine, which the pay scale combats. It is not obsolete, however. I still believe the current pay scale plays a role in assuring a level of job security, and to financially plan for the future.
Merit pay could be used to supplement to current pay scales. Here is a fairly normal pay scale on what teachers make. I saw one interesting model where teachers were put in three categories based on performance called novice, professional, and expert. Within each category you have ranges of pay from year 1-35 and degrees from bachelors to PhD. In theory I could be a third year teacher with a bachelors, but be in the professional category, and thus be paid more than $38,000.
However, the problem remains, who decides, and how is it decided what performance tier a teacher is in. Administration is the most unaccountable and subjective group that power could be trusted with. Perhaps the only way would to be to allow an opt-in long-term portfolio based assessment of teachers. Has the teacher been given multiple opportunities and demonstrated success over multiple years over multiple criteria? If so, they deserve excellent pay and to be moved up the chain.
Who decides? It would have to be a diverse group heavily weighted with good teachers. In a perfect world, schools would be 100% teacher run like MSLA in Denver. Teachers know good educators when they see them, nobody wants to teach with incompetent colleagues. Teachers motives for awarding merit pay would be proper student preparation, and an effective teammate. If we trusted our teachers to make the right decisions, and held them accountable for it, merit pay could be fair and just, while at the same time attracting more qualified individuals to become, and stay teachers. This of course, is only a model. It is not, and cannot be perfect.
The problem arises when a top-down approach is imposed, and teachers are unfairly assessed by those that don't understand the profession. We need to trust our teachers, and allow for teacher led reform of the system. Just because teachers don't have money, doesn't mean we shouldn't have influence. Unfortunately, the system has currently designed it that way, and those like Broad will continue to meddle and be unsuccessful in something they do not understand.