Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wallace: Merit pay for teachers will expand throughout the state

I am not one of those teachers who marches in lockstep with those who think merit pay for teachers is one of the seven deadly sins.

In fact, I would favor merit pay as long as there was a reasonable way to determine who would receive it.

The door to merit pay in Missouri schools was opened earlier this month when Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill which allows merit pay in the St. Louis school long as the teachers give up their tenure rights, something which seems to be the main target of the bill.

The bill's sponsor, Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, in a recent interview, said he thinks the current limited use of merit pay will expand. "Maybe we can encourage better teachers to come here if they make $10,000 more. Perhaps we can encourage them to stay. Will it expand throughout the state? I think if it's successful, it will."

Contrary to what some politicians would lead you to believe, tenure is not damaging education. Tenure is not what keeps bad teachers in the classroom. If those teachers were bad at the end of five years and were hired for the next year, they were obviously lacking in the first, second, third, and fourth years, as well, and something should have been done much earlier. Tenure does not prevent a bad teacher from being fired, it offers the teacher due process. And we all know of cases where a teacher has done an excellent job and ran afoul of a school board member or a particular administrator.

Returning to merit pay, if student test scores are the sole determining factor, then forget it. You have no way of determining whether a teacher deserves a pay raise based on one year of test scores. In the first place, the way Missouri's MAP program operates, you are not comparing students to what they have accomplished in the past. You are comparing them to what a totally different group of students accomplished. That would be like having Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright leave the Cardinals as free agents and then expect Tony LaRussa to win more games with lesser players. Sometimes, a teacher will end up with a better group and test scores will go up. Sometimes, it works the other way.

How the students did the previous year needs to be taken into consideration, along with administrative evaluations, and even peer observations. Tests have to be a part of merit pay, but they cannot be the entire program.

Certainly, good teachers do not like it when they know they make less money than inferior teachers just because those teachers have taken extra classes or have been in the classrom a few more years. The system is undeniably flawed, but the cure for the problems appears likely to make them even worse.

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