Is Merit Pay the Answer?

by theschoolprincipal on December 19, 2010


Several states applying for competitive grants under President Obama’s Race to the Top have included merit pay in their grant applications. If student scores improve, teachers will be rewarded with additional money.

It’s a win-win proposition, right?   Well, no, because the latest research on merit pay does not show that the result will be increased student achievement.

Isn’t the subject of merit pay really a conversation about what motivates people? Take a look at this YouTube clip on motivation.

Once we _______________________(fill in the blank), what are the 3 incentives that motivate most people, including teachers? The three certainly work for me.

Will merit pay be the solution? Will scores begin to rise? I think not. The reasons for mediocre student achievement are systemic and much deeper. We are not addressing the causal roots of the problem. One of the problems is modern-day American culture, which has changed considerably over the last 50 years. Here is another YouTube clip, which will help you understand what teachers must currently contend with. Now if  all of our students were future-oriented. . .  Ah, but there’s no such thing as utopia, is there?

Let’s say that you will receive merit pay if you can improve your students’ scores. Considering the YouTube clip you just saw, what measures can you take to accomplish this? Are the solutions within your control?

Changing the American educational system must some day come down to placing the responsibility for achievement mostly on our students. Today’s students who already accept this responsibility rise to the challenge mainly because of the way they were parented. All kinds of ideas exist to help parents learn effective parenting skills in order to prepare their young children for success when they  begin kindergarten. If we want to produce more accomplished students, we need to break the cycle where it starts — which is before children ever get to kindergarten. It’s called Pre-K education. And if we can pull that off — and fix the inequities in funding from district to district — the meaningful change we all seek will be within reach.

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