Merit pay will not work

Teachers in Denver who are on strike will once again bring to the surface the issue of merit pay (“Denver Teachers to Strike Over Merit-Pay System,” Education Week, Feb. 6).  Fifteen years ago, Denver instituted ProComp as a way of rewarding teachers for their ability to raise student achievement and for teaching at schools where they are needed the most.  But it has not worked out as hoped for.

I’ve written often before why so much of any teacher’s effectiveness is the direct result of the students inherited.  Therefore, I’d like to take a closer look at ProComp’s success in inducing teachers to accept assignments in hard-to-staff schools.  Paying teachers more to do so is often called combat pay for good reason.  Students in these schools come from chaotic backgrounds that make teaching subject matter secondary to performing triage on a daily basis.

There will always be some teachers who will opt to do so.  But combat pay has not been popular.  Supporters will argue that if combat pay were increased enough more teachers would join.  I seriously doubt it.  Teachers want to teach their subject.  They’re not mercenaries looking to increase their salary.  That’s why turnover in such schools post high turnover rates.  No amount of money is going to significantly change that.

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2 Replies to “Merit pay will not work”

  1. “Combat” pay and merit pay are two separate issues. Agree that both are probably not effective for teachers. I’d probably support merit pay if — a huge, virtually impossible if — teachers had first-line supervisors whose evaluations of the supervised teachers took into account the many variables that impact a teacher’s performance. Virtually all other kinds of professional employees function in some kind of merit-pay system — even govt employees who theoretically are on a fixed salary schedule but who can earn a bonus or a more rapid promotion via exceptional work. But, all those other kinds of professional employees also have real first-line supervisors.

    Re “combat” pay — rather than combat pay, school systems should implement reforms to reduce, if not completely eliminate, the minor but endemic misbehavior that constantly disrupts instruction and burns out teachers in the low-SES schools.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: ProComp unfortunately confuses the public by failing to distinguish between merit pay and combat pay. Although they are related, they are not the same. However, neither one has found much support among teachers who know how much of their success is the direct result of the students they happen to inherit.

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