Merit Pay

MYTH: If schools were allowed to grant merit pay, good teachers would be well compensated .


  • FACT: The fundamental problem is low teacher pay, period. Merit pay schemes are a weak answer to the national teacher compensation crisis.
  • Merit pay systems force teachers to compete, rather than cooperate. They create a disincentive for teachers to share information and teaching techniques. This is especially true because there is always a limited pool of money for merit pay. Thus, the number-one way teachers learn their craft --learning from their colleagues -- is effectively shut down. If you think we have turnover problems in teaching now, wait until new teachers have no one to turn to.
  • The single salary schedule is the fairest, best understood, and most widely used approach to teacher compensation -- in large part because it rewards the things that make a difference in teacher quality: knowledge and experience.
  • Plus, a salary schedule is a reliable predictor of future pay increases. Pay for performance plans are costly to taxpayers and difficult to administer. In contrast, single salary schedules have known costs and are easy to administer. School boards can more easily budget costs and need less time and money to evaluate employees and respond to grievances and arbitrations resulting from the evaluation system. Worse yet, there is often a lack of dedicated, ongoing funding for merit pay systems.
  • Merit pay begs the question of fairness and objectivity in teacher assessments and the kind of teacher performance that gets "captured" -- is it a full picture, or just a snapshot in time? Is teacher performance based on multiple measures of student achievement or simply standardized test scores? Are there teachers who are ineligible to participate in a merit plan because their field of expertise (art, music, etc.) is not subject to standardized tests?
  • By November 2006, 50 Texas schools rejected state grants to establish merit pay programs for teachers, tied to higher student test scores. Many schools reported that teachers opposed the idea or that administrators were reluctant to decide who should get a bonus and who shouldn't. Teachers at schools opposed to merit pay said it was not worth the extra money to break up the team spirit among teachers and spend time filling out paperwork for the program. In Bellaire, Texas, fifth grade science teacher Tammy Woods voiced her paperwork concern to the Dallas Morning News. "Most of us felt our time would be better spent working with the kids than working on the incentive-pay plan," she said. "We also felt there would be hard feelings no matter what happened because not everyone who worked to accomplish our goals would be rewarded."

Vanderbilt University Study on Performance Incentives for Teachers (2010):

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