Re: Reward teachers who show merit pay (Jan. 22). Teachers -- they're not doing the best job they can. They must be holding out for more money. Insulting? Of course it is.
I am a vice-principal of a K-8 school and I say that the idea that teachers could be doing a better job but choose not to is ridiculous. Survey after survey shows that salary ranks far down the list when it comes to reasons people teach or opt out of the profession. And that's only one of the many problems with merit pay.
According to educational historians Larry Cuban and David Tyack, the history of performance-based salary plans "has been a merry-go-round. In the main, districts that initially embraced merit pay dropped it after a brief trial."
One area that has been thoroughly investigated in education is that of reward and the effect it has on performance. Repeatedly it has been shown that the use of extrinsic motivation (in this case, the "carrot" is merit pay) actually reduces the desire to do the task.
Research has shown that a love of what you're doing and the resultant satisfaction is ultimately what drives you to do it. In other words, if your only reason for doing a good deed is recognition of what you've done, you are unlikely to do a good deed if no one's watching.
But perhaps the greatest flaw in the pay-for-performance argument is that we can determine, across the board, what constitutes good teaching. Obviously, some teachers are more effective than others but the slippery slope lies in assigning some kind of number to that.
There are many factors at work, not the least of which is the fact that teachers have little control over which students are assigned to their class. The result is a huge variation between classes and between schools.
Alfie Kohn, the noted education critic, puts it this way: "It's possible to evaluate the quality of teaching, but it's not possible to reach consensus on a valid and reliable way to pin down the meaning of success, especially when dollars hang in the balance."
We can mandate that teachers work harder through merit pay or we can heed the words of Al Ramirez from the department of leadership at the University of Colorado: "Adults in schools are motivated by something far more important than money -- a purpose beyond themselves."