The education system is always an area that is looking for reform. Students are very important to a nation’s future and, thus, the best needs to be done for them. Teachers are constantly trying new techniques, reading literature, and reaching out to parents. But do all teachers do this? Well, no. Not all teachers are equal. That is why many education boards are considering merit pay as a way to improve teaching quality. Merit pay, (a.k.a performance-related pay), uses bonus to reward good teaching. Many UK countries already use merit pay systems. But is it the best system for improving teaching in North America? I would argue no. There is no evidence that it has any positive impact on student learning and, in fact, it could be highly detrimental to the teaching profession.
Plenty of people see benefit in merit pay. They would argue that people deserve to be rewarded for hard work. Not all teachers work equally hard, and therefore there is an inequality in the system. This is true, of course, but not one that merit pay can necessarily fix. Simply put, some teachers would still continue to work harder than others. Another argument for using merit pay is that it will help prevent teacher burn out. But is this necessarily true? If teachers know their salary is based on how hard they work, they may find themselves working twice as hard as before. They might feel pressured to one-up their fellow teachers in order to look good. This could cause them to ‘burn-out’ twice as fast as before.
One of the fiercest arguments against a merit-pay program is that it would jeopardize relationships between teachers. As the education system works now, teachers share resources, plans, and strategies. But if their work was being judged competitively, teachers would be less likely to share. In fact, they would find themselves competing for guest speakers, textbooks, supplies – or even for students themselves. Creating class lists could become a heated process. Teachers may be less likely to take on challenging positions if they thought it would affect their pay.
Another major problem with merit pay is the difficulty in measuring success. Teaching isn’t like any other field. There are many variables to consider: ESL populations, special needs students, parent dynamics, and ethnic diversity. How do you decide which is harder to teach: a full kindergarten class or high school physics? Is coaching a football team equal to directing a play? And if merit pay is based on test scores alone, that can lead to problems. In Atlanta, for example, it was discovered that for over ten years, 178 teachers (in 44 out of 56 schools) were cheating. They changed students’ answers on standardized tests in order to achieve a better district ranking. Wouldn’t this problem be compounded by merit pay?
The answer is yes. While merit pay might provide an incentive for some teachers to work harder, it causes far more problems than it solves. The teaching profession could change into a competitive field that would jeopardize student success rather than help it.