President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative has recently suggested “merit pay” for teachers—paying teachers differently based on the results they produce in the classroom. The National Education Association (NEA) reportedly opposes merit pay; but, is it an idea whose time has come?
Recently, the Washington, D.C., school board, with the help of school Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s leadership, has successfully contracted with teachers unions to implement performance pay. Reportedly, the agreement offers teachers more compensation in return for greater accountability in their students’ academic achievement. Significant bonuses will be offered to teachers who demonstrate “positive” results in the classroom. Bonuses of up to $20,000 to $30,000 will be given to teachers whose students show better-than-projected growth in test scores—one of the main criteria in the performance pay teacher evaluation system. However, this controversial teacher evaluation system will also allow principals to base their employment decisions on performance instead of seniority.
Rhee had this to say about the performance pay aspect of the new contract:
The new union contract passed unanimously by the City Council means students will have more effective teachers in the classroom and teachers will be rewarded monetarily for increasing student achievement. … It also tackles three of the perennial problems that have plagued school district agreements over time—lock step pay, seniority and tenure.
So, are we opening up a can of worms to define standards of success for our nation’s schools when the stakes are cash in the pockets of real teachers? Or, with some American schools in “crisis” and some of the old lockstep ways of running schools and motivating teachers aren’t working, perhaps maybe it’s time to think “outside of the box” and try a system that has the potential to dramatically improve our education system and make teaching careers more attractive by treating educators as “true” professionals.