Introduction Merit pay has been a very popular, and controversial, topic in the education circles in recent years. It is a way in which educators are financially compensated for perceived higher levels of job performance. There are a number of different ways that this can be implemented. Some of these are merit-based salary schedules, bonuses, and incentive pay. School districts can tie in the various forms of merit pay into the regular salary schedule or develop a separate pay scale.
Presently, Merit Pay is based on achieving specified goals and that determines the amount of benefits that the teacher receives. These goals are generally attached to the results of criterion-referenced or standardized tests. Some programs require that teachers create their own objectives and fulfilling these goals will entitle the teacher to Merit Pay. It can also be given to the teachers that show effectiveness based on input criteria (teacher performance).
Some input criteria include knowledge of subject matter, instructional techniques, student management, and professional growth (Ellis, 1984). In addition to goal achievement based Merit Pay, it can also be based on a teacher having additional responsibilities, perfect attendance, and working at a high priority location. Frequently, merit pay is also called incentive pay.
Before a district decides to go with a merit pay based system, the board of education should create a committee made up of board members, administrators, and classroom teachers to research the topic and design recommendations for possible approval. Teachers are the key to this process because if they are not involved in every phase of the planning, the central administration of a district will meet heavy resistance. "Unless you plan carefully and include your entire teaching corps in an evaluation plan that it helps develop, your merit pay plan is doomed to failure." (Ellis, 1984).
FACTS The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) did a series of articles based on Merit Pay. Their research showed that most incentive plans have used supervisor evaluations to judge individual teacher performance, relying on a school principal's review in distributing rewards (AFT, 2000). Incentive programs that offer financial rewards have come under heavy criticism. Many experts have said that a variety of different Merit Pay based systems have been attempted and discarded since the concept was first developed and that fraud has prevented any such programs from leading to actual gains in student achievement (AFT, 2000).
Other problems with Merit Pay based systems have been discussed. The possibility of Merit Pay programs discouraging teachers from working with low and underachieving students is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Also, authenticity of results is another primary issue that critics like to point out as a serious problem when discussing any form of judgment based financial system. "Merit pay is ridiculous and the reason it's ridiculous is that it discourages teachers from taking classes that are difficult," said Judith Gabey, a senior English teacher at Murry Bergtram High School. (AFT 2000).
ANALYSIS Merit pay has been attempted in a variety of different formats and, in almost every case it has failed miserably. There is an assortment of reasons on why this has been the case. Underfundment, teacher morale, and subjective procedures for evaluating teachers are just a few of these.
The AFT has stated "it is time to explore viable, fair and educationally sound teacher compensation options that will raise salaries while contributing to efforts already under way to assure high-quality, well-prepared teachers for all students." (AFT, p.2) A Merit Pay based system could include continuing education objectives or teaching in hard to staff, urban schools. Also, a more objective way of judging the way disbursement of merit pay is done. A prime example of doing this is using teacher created portfolios as a way to document suitability to receive merit pay.
CONCLUSION Much of what was read and discussed is already implemented in many school districts just under a different name. An example of this is the incentive program for more pay if one does continuing education classes. How is this any different from what many districts do now by moving a teacher over on the pay scale for earning an advanced degree (or more)? Also, the competition that would breed in such an environment will have a negative impact on staff morale, by virtue of there will always be those who earn it and those who don't. A third point is that how can any Merit Pay system be considered objective? There will always be some kind of human "judge" on whether a teacher actually earned the objectives set to be paid based on merit. This is an excellent time for personal and political biases to be brought to the fore. No matter which of the above arguments I would choose, I still say that any Merit Pay based system is a bad idea and should not be implemented.
REFERENCES Ellis, Thomas I. (1984). Merit pay for teachers. ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management. Retrieved February 6, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://ww.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed259453.html (2000). AFT on the issues. The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 6, 2002 from the World Wide Web: Http://www.aft.org/issues/meritpay/turmoil.html Kelley, Carolyn. (2000). Making merit pay work. American School Board Journal.
Retrieved February 6,2002 From the World Wide Web: Http://www.asbj.com/schoolspending/kelley.html