Monday, January 4, 2016

The Merit Pay Lie

Every profession accepts merit pay. All people in the Real Working World accept having their income tied to their job performance. Why should teachers be any different?

That's the standard line. Only it isn't true. 

Here's a quick report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This particular piece only covers 2006-2009, but it's unlikely that the stats we're looking at have changed dramatically.

What percentage of the private workforce-- you know, that private sector where "everybody" accepts having their pay tied to their results-- how much of that private work-force is composed of workers whose earnings are tied to sales or output?


Additionally, of those identified as sales workers, only 20% were incentive-based. In other words, even in the sales world, the one sector where we might have legitimately assumed "everyone" works strictly on merit pay, only one in five workers has his earnings tied to his job performance.

We could get into the other lie here-- that merit pay actually gets better work out of people in general or teachers in particular-- but let's leave that for another day so that we can let these cold, hard statistics sink in.

Everybody in the private sector does not work for incentive or merit pay.


  1. You are such an amazing blogger. Thank you for your hard work.

  2. I don't have as much of a problem with merit pay if it is bonus pay. As in, whatever I earn through whatever system has been concocted does not lower the base pay for which I have contractually agreed to work. For example, in my home state of North Carolina, which, long ago, did right by their teachers, would pay out a $1,500 bonus to every certified employee in the school if the school "exceeded expected growth" on their End-of-Grade and End-of-Course testing. Was the system (before the Republicans axed it) perfect? Absolutely not. I could go for pages on why that is, but as a form of merit pay...well, I'm not going to turn down a $1500 check.

    Currently, my school district that I work for in South Carolina is a TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) district. There is a tremendous amount of information online available about TAP schools and its merit pay systems, but we have just received our bonus from last year. Again, tremendous problems exist; to this day no one can (or will bother) to explain the formula used, and it involves SLOs which can (and are) manipulated by the faculty and yes, of course, the secret VAM sauce. I walked away with a $1300 paycheck, but the "top" teacher out walked out with a $3900 paycheck. (It roughly breaks down to a 40/30/30 split of classroom observations, SLO/VAM, and school performance as a whole on SC End-of-Course tests, in that order).

    On a slight side note here, I'd like to say that while my sample size is small, we aren't shunning or hissing at the "high rollers." I tend to think we over-exaggerate the potential effects of bonuses such as these. Quite honestly, if you are going to hold back lesson plans or do any other such nonsense--in short, be a non-professional about your job of educating children, I don't really want to consider you a teacher. Period.

    No system of compensation will be perfect. There needs to be a true conversation in the legislatures and classrooms all over America about how we are to be paid fairly and equitably. To simply say "we will never deviate from degrees and years put in" is shortsighted. To say the 15-year veteran with a Master's who helps covers classes when needed, tutors students at the drop of a hat during lunch and after school, who never misses duty, and who helps with clubs and yearbook should be paid the same as the 15-year veteran with a Master's who doesn't do any of the above and beats the kids out of the door every afternoon? I'm never going to agree with that at all.

    *Please remember us non-unionized teachers down South...and elsewhere. None of those things mentioned comes with extra pay baked in already.

    1. Giving bonus pay to every teacher is not merit pay. Merit pay has to be individually "earned" through individual "results". It automatically sets up a competitive, cutthroat environment (one that is also likely to include a fair amount of cheating).

    2. It sounds to me like the problem in SC is not having unions. Where I taught we were always compensated by contract for covering classes, extra duties, and advising extra-curricular activities. Extra time and work, automatic extra compensation, as it should be. I've never seen any kind of individual "merit pay" system that was fair.