Merit pay doesn't work, so what does? | Chalkboard Project

Merit pay doesn't work, so what does?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015 Julie Smith Bev Pratt

Co-authors and Chalkboard staffers Julie Smith, educator effectiveness coordinator, and Bev Pratt, TIF grant manager, will be presenting a blog post series this summer on teacher compensation.

This is the first blog post in that series.

Merit pay is defined as paying teachers for increases in student test scores and has been proven time and again not to work for students or teachers, and we at Chalkboard agree. Teachers work hard for their students every day and so to say “We will pay you more, or pay you a bonus if your scores increase” does not suddenly make a teacher more effective. When we dig deeper into claims that merit pay systems work, we find that it is not the merit pay that makes teachers more effective, but it is the system of supports put in place to ensure teachers reach their professional and student goals.

Over the years, alternative compensation systems have evolved to include many different components based on the performance of both teachers and students, as well as on teachers improving their professional practice. For example, last month we visited a Colorado district that had a version of merit—or performance—pay in place that purported to be making a difference for kids. When we probed deeper to understand why the district was seeing improvements in student learning, it turned out the educators had a clear picture of what they needed to do to refine their practices, and had supports in place to help them meet those goals. The district also had a very well defined assessment system, designed with teachers’ input.

Portland, Maine, also designed an alternative compensation system when they moved from an experience-based pay model (first introduced in the early 1900’s) to a professional-learning-based salary system. Instead of teachers having to pay for college credits to advance across a traditional salary schedule, teachers had the option of opting into the new system that recognized educators as lifelong learners who continued to improve and adapt their teaching practice. Again, the redesign of their compensation model led to a focus on providing and valuing meaningful professional learning opportunities for teachers to enhance their craft to ensure they are effective with all kids.

Systems of support can and should exist with or without increases in pay for performance. An effective system regardless of the compensation system makes sure teachers are receiving quality professional learning opportunities focused on instruction, student engagement, understanding standards, and formative assessment. These quality-learning opportunities are embedded and ongoing, and they are collaborative among peers, with opportunities for independent learning. Most importantly, these districts prioritize professional learning by allocating resources, compensation, and time.

Educating kids today is different than it was a generation ago. We cannot assume teachers can adapt to this new environment just because they need too. Teachers and district leaders need to come together to collaboratively design effective professional learning opportunities that support the acquisition of new knowledge, skill development, exploration of beliefs and assumptions, and opportunities to practice. Together, they must refine the application of new learning and evaluate the impact of their learning on all students.

 Stay tuned. The next blog in this series will explore alternative compensation models that support this type of deeper learning!

  • Compensation
  • Policy

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