Merit based pay for teachers, not a matter of tests

By Brooke Boznango

@missboznango

Recently a story has been circulating the web about a school in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. This past year, nearly 1 in 5 teachers left the school district, leaving the school in a rush to hire teachers for the new school year.

The reasons behind the large teacher turnover vary from personal to professional. However, one reason has caught my eye and warrants a discussion: merit pay for teachers.

Everyone at some point in their lives has had a teacher they just did not like. Personally, I have had a teacher that harassed freshman students and a teacher who would rather be anywhere but the classroom.

On the flip side, most of us can think of a few great teachers that has influenced us in a positive way. They made going to school worth it, at least most the time.

It is obvious that these two types of teachers are on different levels, and some may say they should be paid at different rates. This may seem like a good idea on paper, but the negatives far outweigh the positives.

Merit pay is based on student scores on standardized tests. Teachers of students who score higher on the standardized tests will be paid at a higher rate or will receive a higher bonus than teachers of students who scored lower.

Again, this seems like a good idea on paper, but it is important to remember that not all students learn at the same rate.

Take for example a student with a disability. This student may work hard every day on school work, but they may not reach the same level as a student without a disability. This causes hard feelings between students because the blame will fall to the students with the lower test scores.

Additionally, merit pay causes hard feelings between teachers. Teachers are forced into a competitive environment, which can ruin relationships between colleagues.

To make matters worse, the focus is shifted from the well-being of students to the quality of their test scores. Teaching life skills falls by the wayside, making way for a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Common Core is already making it more difficult to teach life skills, and merit pay will only make it worse.

The basic principle behind merit pay makes sense. Teachers who work hard every day to influence their students and improve them with the best education possible should be paid at a higher rate than teachers who do not work as hard.

However, deciding which teachers deserve the higher pay should not be based on student scores, though it should play a part. Rather, I believe a combination of teacher evaluations by the principal, students, and parents and student scores on standardized tests should be used.

The influence a teacher leaves on a student makes just as much of an impact on their education as the way they teach each lesson. A student who feels safe and nurtured will learn more efficiently than a student who feels alone or singled out. A caring teacher makes that feeling possible.

Outside of the classroom, a teacher’s influence continues specifically in communication between the teacher and the parents. A dedicated teacher takes time out of their busy schedules to open the lines of communication between themselves and the parents. Doing this keeps the parents actively updated on their child’s progress in school.

Finally, teachers who put extra effort in to building relationships with students tend to produce higher test scores. Not only is this because they create a good environment for learning to happen, but they also tend to have a better understanding of how their students learn and can adjust the lessons to fit students’ needs.

At the end of the day, it becomes evident that merit pay will not work on student scores alone. A teacher is more than just a person standing in front of a bunch of students reading from a textbook. Not everyone can be a teacher.

A teacher has to have compassion and dedication to what they do, and unfortunately, there are those who do not have that compassion. While merit pay would weed out those undedicated teachers, there are too many factors to consider when distributing the money.

The situation at Reynoldsburg is unfortunate, but hopefully it will serve as an example to other schools systems that a merit pay system will not work.

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