Duncan Advocates for Teacher Merit Pay


arneduncan_08If you’ve ever worked for pay, you are very familiar with the concept of the annual review. No one likes it, but if you and your supervisor use it the right way it can be a tool to help you figure out how to do your job better. And even better, there’s usually a small boost in your salary if you “pass.”

Most jobs hand out raises, a a matter of fact, at least nominally on merit.

So why don’t teachers, who do one of the most important jobs on the planet, have their raises based on their individual merit instead of how much their union is able to wrest out of the school district every few years? Well, those unions are in large part where the fault lies. Both major teachers’ unions are violently opposed to merit pay, even booing then-candidate Barack Obama when he spoke in favor of it at the National Education Association’s meeting last year. This year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan went back to press the issue again, and got a predictable reaction.

“We must all think differently when thousands of schools are chronically failing and millions of children are dropping out each year,” Duncan told the 3.2-million member union. He called seniority and tenure rules issues that “put adults ahead of children” in education.

I’m so behind him on this one. I can’t imagine another job where you get your raise year after year without having to prove you’re actually doing what you’re hired to do. Not only are teachers against any evaluation that would affect their pay, they are aghast at even being asked to consider it.

Now, I understand, as does Duncan, that test scores can’t be the only measure of teacher merit. At least in my state, the list of top performing districts on our state standardized test line up exactly with the wealthiest districts, and the teachers in those districts are likely not better than teachers in poor districts, they are just paid more and are teaching kids whose parents are generally more educated themselves and thus have a better knowledge of how to help their kids do well in school.

But some system to weed out the bad teachers and reward the good has to happen, and could conceivably even spur the indifferent teachers to be better if they know there’s going to be a little extra in their paycheck. Maybe asking peers and —gasp even students to evaluate the teacher should be part of that. After all, I knew when I had a good teacher even if I didn’t like her, and knew just as well when I was dealing with an incompetent, if nice, educator.

I have a lot of friends who are teachers, and I have huge amounts of respect for how hard they work. But so does everybody else —and most of us have to be good at our jobs to keep them. The people who are teaching our kids shouldn’t have a lower standard.