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Mixed Messages

Performance Pay in Education

Recently, PA Governor Tom Corbett said that he would like to see a performance pay system in use for teachers in PA's public schools.  A plan is currently in place in Pittsburgh, and the Governor would like to see it implemented throughout the state -- along with his "grading system" of schools.  One source indicates that teachers receive a bonus of up to $1000 if their school achieves AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress -- measured in PA by student performance on the PSSAs).  Additionally, this plan links salary to teacher performance in the classroom.  If a teacher is evaluated and deemed "exceptional", then (s)he earns another bonus.

I can see the genesis of this iniative.  There are far too many lazy, mediocre teachers out there.  And, with our current system of tenure and longevity protecting teachers from being disciplined or fired, these mediocre and complacent teachers fall under the radar and milk the educational heifer for far too long -- until they retire and collect an ill-earned pension.  Additionally, despite our being the most developed nation in the world, we rank far too low on education.  Why aren't our kids performing better? many want to know.

While I agree that exceptional teachers should be honored and supported in their endeavors, I am not convinced that a merit-pay system will work in education.  The business model is simple:  A salesman will work harder to sell his product in order to earn a commission.  But -- the product (a car, for example) in these two cases couldn't be more different.  A car is an inanimate object, a hunk of metal designed for the task of driving.  A student's education is dynamic, individualized, and influenced by many factors -- important ones include parental support and self-motivation.  The student must be a willing participant in the merit-pay equation.  The car has no choice, nor can it sway the results of the sale. 

I'm not alone in my doubt.  A recent study from Harvard debunks the use of a merit pay system -- New York City recently spent $75 million on a performance pay model that did nothing to improve student achievement.   I think that, unlike the salesman with the car, teachers have to accommodate and differientiate instruction to advance student learning.  That kind of work can't be quantified into dollars and cents.   

I'd write more about this topic (and I promise, I will) but my prep time is over, and I need to get back to work!

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