Larry Cuban looks at one of the current hot topics in education reform, merit pay for teachers (what he calls “pay for performance”), and reminds everyone that there’s nothing new here.
In touting pay-for-performance plans, federal and state decision-makers fail to point out (or ignore) past efforts to link teacher performance to money that have been a series of disasters plainly seen by those who know their history. In fact, an honest reformer’s advice to would-be buyers of these schemes would be: The lousy record of pay-for-performance plans does, indeed, predict the future. [his emphasis]
Consider England in the late-19th century, the history of merit pay plans since the 1920s, and U.S. performance contracting in the 1960s. Using cash to spur teachers to get students to learn more, faster, and better, these plans stumbled repeatedly in narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, and sowing distrust among teachers and administrators. Ultimately, policymakers abandoned the plans. Few researchers and knowledgeable policymakers would dispute these previous failed efforts.
Back in the early 90’s our overly-large school district tried a merit pay scheme.
And while I personally benefited from the program (full disclosure: I enjoyed having the extra cash! :-), overall it was a major waste, time as well as money, and did nothing to improve learning.
Paying individual teachers for the performance (aka higher standardized test scores) of students currently sitting in their classrooms is wrong in so many ways.
It ignores the educators who worked with the kids in past years as well as the other staff members in the school who are contributing to their learning now.
Much worse than that, it reinforces the traditional concept of the teacher as an independent contractor, working in isolation, solely and completely responsible for the learning of the children assigned to them.
Cuban is right that the current salary system used in most school systems, one where everyone gets the same based on the arbitrary factors of longevity and continuing education credits, is wrong.
However, any new system needs to get beyond the view of teaching as an individual process and focus on the collaborative effort that goes into any child’s education.