Friday, October 17, 2003

Merit Pay?

It's contract time again, and it seems like Klein is going to push the issue of merit pay for teachers, or at least, a pay scale that rewards teachers who fill high-need positions (such as Math, Science, and positions in failing schools).

Alfred S. Posamentier, dean of the School of Education at City College, said he agreed with some of Mr. Klein's critiques, in particular the notion that teachers should be paid in accordance with the demands in their field.

"Teachers want to be treated as professionals; they have to behave like professionals," he said. "If a person is in a field of high need, then you should pay them more."

Note that they are not even talking about real merit pay, paying teachers more if they can prove they are successful.

Personally, I think one of the keys to improving education in this country is increasing the respect for teachers as professionals, among ourselves and in society at large. Way back in an undergrad course in education, I read an article (don't remember the author or title) proposing that instead of unions, teachers should belong to professional organizations like the legal bar or the medical associations. These organizations protect the rights of their members, but they also require a certain standard of education and accomplishment of their members. I like this idea. When people think about teachers, I want them to think of well-paid, intelligent, knowledgeable, committed, responsible professionals. I don't like the current image of teachers as lazy people who can't make it in any real career ("if you can't do, teach"). Of course, every individual I meet thinks it's great that I'm a teacher and that teachers are important - but society as a whole has a negative image of the profession, which politicians play on all the time.

Currently, a starting teacher in NYC can make about $40,000... but after getting a master's (even a Ph.D.) and teaching for 25 years, that teacher might have just barely doubled his or her salary! That's ridiculous! What's the incentive to stay in the profession? Why enroll in a serious, challenging degree program when you could opt for the cheapest, fastest, least-challenging master's degree - after all, you're only going to make a few thousand dollars more! I am willing to give up some job security for greater respect and the chance to make more money, but the rewards need to be significant, not piddling! Furthermore, I think teachers ought to demand other professional courtesies, like cleaner buildings, more preparatory periods, access to adequate office supplies, and more control over the materials and textbooks purchased by the school. In exchange, we should act like professionals, by collaborating with our colleagues, constantly working to improve our teaching, and being open to fair evaluation by colleagues and administrators.

Brian Crosby wrote a book called The $100,000 Teacher which outlines ways that a fair merit-pay system and other changes could turn the teaching profession around 180 degrees. I liked it and thought he made some good suggestions (one thumb up); my colleague thought he was a blowhard (one thumb down).

More on fair evaluation of teaching in another post.


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