Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Long Discredited, Merit Pay Dies in Newark

I'll leave it to Jersey Jazzman, who's followed this far more closely than I have, to fill you in on chapter and verse. He does mention, though, that only 20% of those with a choice opted into the system, and that highly rated teachers were mostly found in the opt-out pool. I'd argue well-informed, smart people make the best teachers. Diane Ravitch has written extensively on merit pay, and states it's been around for over a hundred years, and has never worked anywhere.

Why on earth does it keep bouncing back? In a world looking for quick fixes and quick answers, it makes sense. If you're good, you should earn more money. The question then becomes how you measure who is good. The answer, usually, is via test scores. When I first started this blog, I assumed that test scores measured something. I've since evolved. I think it was Alfie Kohn who suggested what they actually measured was zip code.

I'm in a funny position. Someone told me recently that my students had very good test scores. Assuming that's true, it has very little to do with me and everything to do with the test. I'm rated on the NYSESLAT, and it appears that everyone is advanced, even if they know little to no English. Can't form present tense? Advanced. Can't write a coherent sentence? Advanced. Can't make basic conversation? Advanced.

So I'm a frigging genius, and all my students will go to the advanced class. Therefore, I deserve merit pay. However, the tests give, and the tests taketh away. Next year, NY State could decide that teachers all suck and it needs to be scientifically established. So they'll raise the pass scores and I will suck. Once I suck, there goes all my merit, there goes all my pay, and I'll have to forgo my much-anticipated chateau in the Ozarks.

Merit pay is like Forest Gump's box of candy--you never know what you're going to get. This can be problematic if you're planning on, oh, having a life, living somewhere, supporting children, buying the occasional toy for your dog, etc. I guess if you're young and indoctrinated by TFA or something, you can believe you're a superstar even though you've got no experience whatsoever. But I know better.

When I think about merit pay, I always think about what a former principal of mine said. "Hey, I don't want merit pay. If you're waiting for merit pay, and you aren't giving me your very best right now, I want to fire your ass."

I'm not generally sympathetic to principals talking about firing teachers. They often do so for ridiculous reasons. But hey, if you have a job it kind of behooves you to do the best you can. Teaching is complicated. Every year there are different students, and every year they have different needs. (Sometimes it seems like by the time you really know them well enough to make a difference they're moving on. ) He was right, though. If you're waiting on more money to do your best, you need another job. I have no idea what that job is, but that's your problem.

Teachers ought not to have to worry about money. They ought to worry about their jobs. I had to work a second job for at least twenty years to be able to get by. A whole lot of my colleagues do all kinds of extra things. Teachers need a salary, not a tip.

I'm glad to see merit pay go away in New Jersey. It's a terrible idea, it's always been a terrible idea, and it's part and parcel of the Blame Teachers for Everything movement.

We can do better.
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