The debate on Merit Pay to determine teacher compensation

It seems that the idea of merit pay for teachers just won’t go away.

Most supporters of this concept either have little education background or the lack understanding of basic statistics and the numerous characteristics that make for great teachers (many that just not measurable).

Consider the following video on Merit Pay in which Prof. Daniel Willingham describes six problems (some conceptual, some statistical) with evaluating teachers by comparing student achievement in the fall and in the spring. Obviously this is a video that any school board or anyone considering this concept should watch.

In addition to the video, three addition scenarios quickly came to mind.

1. Classes that have high rate of ESL and ESOL (can't speak/understand English very well) and way behind grade level to begin with.

2. Small schools where the Principal also teaches (self evaluation)

3. teachers in Elective areas (no State testing). They students will improve tremendously from beginning to end (like Software Apps, photography, pottery, PE.)

Following is a response from one teacher who, nearly 30 years ago, saw what can occur first hand.

“My first job was in a district that had previously used merit pay.  In large part, aside from the formula mentioned in the video , the concerns are the same today as they were then:  how do you fairly measure results to determine who truly merits more pay?  One significant difference though is that the district initially relied on principal's assessment - huge can of worms!!  Realizing that wasn't working they, the district, groped for the best way to decide merit pay with virtually all the concerns in this video arising.  Finally the district abandoned merit pay prior to my being hired.

It's obviously very difficult to measure the effectiveness of a teacher.  One thing that I would add to the mix is the number of  kids who go on in the program 'beyond' what's required, ie, two teachers - one consistently has a higher class average on standardized tests than another teacher but the teacher with lower results consistently has more kids go on to take more classes. I suspect that happened in the math department at xxxxx but of course I couldn't prove it.

So much of what we do/did is not quantifiable. Are you a safe haven for kids?  

Do kids seek you out for advice/help beyond your subject area?

Did you interact with kids outside the classroom/school/community?

Not quantifiable but definitely something we emphasized in the computer world.

Do you make your classroom a place where students are encouraged to work outside the box?

Do you approach kids as a whole person and encourage them to be self-learners?

All the points you raise, and the video are quite valid.  

Does your classroom have a high turnover rate?  There are classes where the number of changes in enrollment exceeds the number of students - my wife’'s had classes like that. Imagine teaching classes where the number of new students exceeds the actual number of students!

Probably told you this story.  Years ago at a family reunion my cousins and I were discussing education.  All of them are successful businessmen.  One of them echoed the group feeling that it should be easy to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher.  Most of his thoughts were testing.  I posed a couple of scenarios to him and asked which teacher he would give the higher rating to ....

1.  one teacher having better standardized test results but the other teacher having more kids go on in the program

2.  a teacher who may not have the best test results but is actively involved in helping kids outside the classroom such as staff who work with the CARE program for kids

3.  ....  you get the idea

My cousins backed off their position and openly said that evaluating a teacher's effectiveness is not an easy matter.”