For those who still think that merit pay systems would make a good tool for school reform, Ms. Cornelius over at Shrewdness of Apes offers an example of how one such plan works in the real world. The specifics come from her husband who is finishing his year-end performance reports at Mammoth Defense Corporation (I think they have offices around here :-).

The problem is that if he gives high marks to too many employees, the company will make him rewrite some of them down out of the range that earns bonuses. After all, there’s only a limited amount of money merit in the company.

But that would never happen if a similar plan was implemented in a school system, right?

I got up to follow him after I turned over the paper to the news section. “Opt-in period completed for Denver teacher ProComp plan,” popped out at me. I hope that the same mindset doesn’t take over in Denver. But tax money is always more limited as a source of revenue than defense contracts, with their guaranteed profit percentages. What will happen at Lake Wobegon Middle School? Will all teachers be justly compensated? If so, it’ll be a first.

I don’t know about Denver’s plan, but I can offer my own experience with a merit plan from the last decade. The overly-large school district for which I work (which does consider itself Lake Wobegon) tried a merit reward system for a few years.

While the top administrators refused to say that there was a quota for the number of teachers who could receive the money, it didn’t take long for the details to leak. Principals had a cap of 20% of their staff.

Some principals (mine included) ignored the cap and gave the bonus to as many staff members as they felt deserved it. Others stuck to the cap or even came under, I guess as a way to show the superintendent they could save the county money.

The whole thing was thrown out after four years when the economy took a dive and the board needed to cut the budget. I have no idea if they ever did a study to find out if the system actually improved teaching and learning. So much for merit.

merit pay, education