Two days ago, the Globe and Mail opinion page called for performance based merit pay for elementary and high school teachers in Canada.
Yesterday, two current teachers wrote letters to the editor criticizing the editorial. Among the reasons they gave for why merit pay for teachers is bad, are:
1) “How do you determine who is a “better” teacher?” And “The mechanism for evaluating teacher performance … is fraught with problems”.
No question that a perennial problem for any type of study or evaluation is measurement. But I find it troubling that these two teachers would dismiss the idea of merit pay so quickly simply on the basis of measurement difficulties. How do teachers, for instance, evaluate student performance in any given subject area? How do principals and vice-principals make determinations about which teacher to hire when they fill a position? Do these teachers and administrators just throw up their hands and say, darn, the measurement tools we have are imperfect so let’s just give everyone the same grade? And, let’s just hire everyone who has a teaching degree in the field?
I agree that there are significant challenges in finding the right measurement tool for evaluating teacher performance. But I don’t think it impossible. The solution is probably a battery of measurement tools that take into account different aspects of teacher performance.
But even if you accept this point, you might object by saying:
2) “School administrators are already overworked just keeping the school running and do not have the time needed to evaluate staff thoroughly.”
Again, this is true but: a) teachers already go through an evaluation process every five years and so it would be a matter of changing that to a yearly evaluation; b) yes it would be more resource intensive but there may be ways to get around this issue by creating, dare I say it, more bureaucracy dedicated to this task or farming it out to a private company; and c) if merit pay does create meaningful incentives to improve teacher performance, then the benefits stemming from the program may outweigh the administrative costs.
But wait! You might object by saying:
3) “Once teachers start to compete for whatever criteria are selected to determine merit …. the sharing of resources and lesson plans will be sabotaged.” Yet “Most teachers are motivated by far less tangible rewards. This is the nature of a profession that deals with the growth of young people.”
First, a merit pay system does not automatically lead to a cutthroat environment. In fact, the opposite can occur. I happen to be a slightly productive scholar and have been experimenting with a variety of teaching techniques, and so I actively seek co-authorship with other productive scholars and other professors interested in teaching innovation. And which is? Are teachers going to sabotage lesson plans for money? Or are they motivated by far less tangible rewards? The answer is teachers are motivated by both material and non-material goals. So why not create a system that maximizes both goals in hopes of generating increased teaching performance?