The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

September 3, 2007

Merit pay for teachers could be good idea if details fixed

Great concept, but the devil is in the details. That’s the best way to describe merit pay for teachers, a hot-button issue for many of Oklahoma’s Republican legislators.

State GOP leaders have said new teacher raises will not be approved this coming year without at least part of the increases tied to performance. In principle, that makes sense, rewarding the best teachers for their exceptional work. That is the model of business and industry, the better you perform and the better you are at your job, the more you get paid. Top sales people, athletes, architects, waitresses, bankers and hairdressers get paid more than their competent-but-average peers. So, why not teachers?

Merit pay should be a component of teachers’ pay, and a plan should be both approved and funded by the Legislature. The challenge, then, is how to measure a teacher’s performance.

If you judge teachers by standardized test scores, that only encourages teaching the test. Judge by the number of students receiving A and B grades? That leads to grade inflation. Judge by principal and peer evaluations? Possibly, but that’s subjective and driven as much by personality as by competence.

In theory, better teachers should lead to better students, so most plans involve using student test scores. But just as a coach appears more capable if he has unusually athletic and talented players, a teacher will appear more successful with motivated students who are above-average learners, have involved parents, participate in extra-curricular activities, have a stable and supportive home life, and come from families where education is valued.

Compare that with a classroom filled with students who live in poverty, come from single-parent families, have changed schools often, don’t speak English at home, have parents less able to be involved in school or extracurricular activities, have parents or siblings who had bad experiences in school, or have a troubled and distracting home life.

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