Friday, April 8, 2011

Merit Pay....

For those who follow the debates on how best to pay teachers, one of the suggestions that continues to crop up is that of merit pay (paying a teacher based on his/her performance). At first glance, this seems like a fantastic idea. Shouldn't we ALL be paid based on how well we do our jobs? The problem arises when we try to quantify what it is that tells us a teacher has done well. Many people feel we should be paid based on our student test scores.

Well, one of my favorite ways of teaching my students is to use analogies. So, here's one for you:

Let's imagine that you are a doctor....a general practitioner, let's say. I am one of your patients. I am morbidly obese. I come to your office for a check up and you feel it is your professional duty to help me with my weight problem. We sit down for an hour and you map out a diet and exercise plan for me. You schedule a follow up appointment with me. You give me information about various organizations where I can learn more, meet people who will support me, see examples of how it's done, etc. After ALL OF THIS, I walk out of your office, drive 1/2 a mile down the road, and order 2 double bacon cheeseburgers, a large fry, and a soft drink SUPER SIZED from my favorite fast food place. I then proceed to sit on the couch all evening with the clicker in my hand and a bag of chips by my side.

Should you be paid based on the amount of weight I lose?

Another doctor in your practice has a patient with a weight problem. This doctor does for THAT patient what you did for me, only THAT patient takes the advice to heart. She begins a sensible eating and exercise program. She has her moments where she slides into old habits, but she gets right back on track a day later. She attends her follow up visit with her doctor and finds she has lost 10% of her weight since the last visit.

Should this doctor be paid 10% MORE than you are because his patient was successful at the weight loss?

And what about the patient you have who has lived a healthy life since high school? The one who ran cross country since she was 15 and still maintains that lifestyle? If this patient doesn't lose weight but maintains the healthy lifestyle she's had for years, should you be paid less or more for that?

Paying teachers based on their students' test scores is not EXACTLY the same as paying doctors based on their patients' success or failure, but it's darn close. And equally absurd.

So, yeah, I'd LOVE to be paid what I'm worth. But until we can put together a system of merit pay that actually recognizes those things that make a teacher effective, this is all smoke and mirrors.

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