Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reward teachers who show merit

  • Print

Education Minister Jeff Johnson got the attention of the Alberta Teachers' Association when he recently mused about introducing merit pay for Alberta teachers. Predictably, the ATA harshly condemned Johnson's proposal and vowed to fight any attempt to incorporate merit pay in teacher compensation.

One of the main arguments the ATA gave for opposing merit pay was that it does not boost student academic achievement. However, there is no evidence that the current salary grid promotes student achievement either.

Under the current salary grid, only two factors matter in teacher compensation -- years of teaching experience and years of university education. John, with six years of university and 15 years of experience gets paid more than Doris, with five years of university and six years of experience. End of story.

It doesn't matter whether Doris happens to grade more papers, teach better lessons, coach more sports teams, or serve on more committees than John. Even though most people would agree Doris is the better teacher, John is higher on the grid and consequently receives a higher salary. In the ATA's view, that is exactly how it should be.

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University who specializes in education policy, spent many years analyzing the research on teacher effectiveness. He found that additional years of university education have almost no impact on a teacher's effectiveness. The correlation between experience and effectiveness is more identifiable, but still only modest at best.

In other words, if improving student achievement is our primary focus, one would never set up a teacher's salary grid the way it is right now.

On its website, the ATA approvingly cites Harvard economist Roland Fryer's critical review of New York City's failed merit pay plan to buttress its case against merit pay. However, the ATA ignores Fryer's more recent paper in which he identifies a successful experiment with merit pay in Chicago Heights, Illinois.

In his 2012 paper, Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion, Fryer describes how he and his fellow researchers discovered that teachers who were given a $4,000 bonus at the beginning of the year and told to pay it back if student achievement fell below expectations, got significantly better academic results from their students than teachers in the control group where no incentives were provided. Thus, the ATA is wrong in claiming that there is no research evidence for the effectiveness of merit pay.

Another argument often used against merit pay is that there is no agreement on what constitutes good teaching and such subjectivity makes it impossible for administrators to identify and reward good teachers. This argument is so specious as to be laughable. Any parent with kids in school knows full well that some teachers are better than others. In addition, a candid conversation with a group of high school students about their current teachers should disabuse anyone of the notion that all teachers are equally effective.

There is also abundant research evidence that some teachers are better than others. John Hattie is professor and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne. In his 2009 book, Visible Learning, Hattie synthesizes the results from thousands of research studies to identify which practises have the biggest impact on student achievement. Needless to say, some are considerably more effective than others.

Introducing merit pay to Alberta does not mean the existing pay grid must be completely thrown out. Rather, merit could be incorporated as an additional component of the salary grid. Teachers would still receive increases for education and experience, but would also receive extra compensation as they move through several merit levels. Just as universities distinguish between assistant, associate, and full professors, school administrators could establish different levels for teachers based on their performance.

Evaluation criteria for promotion to a higher merit level could include student academic performance, classroom observations by the principal, extra-curricular involvement, and professional development activities. The ATA could even take an active role in helping administrators design meaningful professional growth standards.

Merit pay for teachers is a reform worth considering. While developing an appropriate merit pay plan would undoubtedly be a lengthy and thorny process, it could provide an effective way to reward teachers for what really matters. Giving additional rewards to outstanding teachers is something the ATA should be able to support.

 

Michael Zwaagstra is a research fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Manitoba high school teacher, and co-author of the book, What's Wrong With Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them.

 

-- Troy Media

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2013 A6

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jim Flaherty remembered at visitation as irreplaceable

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • June 25, 2013 - 130625  -  A storm lit up Winnipeg Tuesday, June 25, 2013. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press - lightning
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Now that the snow is mostly gone, what are your plans?

View Results

Ads by Google