Student, Business Engineering, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium

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What do you think of merit-based pay for teachers?

I don't know if the question is still relevant, I haven't followed it until recently but I heard it was quiet a debate at the Presidential election and wanted to know what he TED community thought of this.
Is merit-based pay for teachers a good idea... There are a lot of pros and cons about the topic: Will it help the education of the students (the main goal of the would-be arrangement)? Will the amount of teachers have a positive boost? Will it make the teachers too competitive, lessening the cooperation between them?

Please write your ideas.

(English is not my first language so excuse the grammatical errors and easy language)

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    Nov 27 2012: Hi Folks,
    On the face of it, merit based pay, performance bonus’, have a feel good aura.
    However, teachers do not go into their profession for the money.

    If we listen to teachers, we would discover teachers, by in large, desire substantially better support.
    Better tools.
    Better infrastructure.
    A society that values and promotes education.
    A society the values and promotes teachers.

    While most teachers would welcome better pay, given a choice they would prefer better support.

    Merit 'payout' is based on a false premise - teachers have control over their students.
    They do not.
    You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink.

    Lets look more deeply.
    Socio-economics play a pivotal role.
    Individual passion, desire, ambition, familial circumstance, biology and more impact minute to minute attitudes of students.
    All of which teachers have no control.

    Teachers cannot “fire” students.
    Teachers cannot “incent” students.

    Teachers can inspire. Motivate. Support.
    All of which have little to do with money.
    Much of which can be favorably impacted with professional tools and infrastructure.

    Educators reward, bonus, if you will, has allot to do with helping fellow human beings be all they can be.
    Little to do with money as a reward.

    The day our society eradicates child poverty, hunger.
    The day our society provides children preventive, on-going healthcare.
    The day our society recognizes no one asks to be born.
    The day our society recognizes children are victims or beneficiaries of circumstances not of their making.
    The day our society recognizes we are all in this together.
    Will be the first day of a new beginning.

    A beginning built on the foundation of our collective past, not anchored to it.
    A beginning constructing its’ future applying all we’ve learned.
    A beginning recognizing knowledge, institutions, human beings evolve.
    A beginning with no finish line.
    A beginning with no end.
    A future of perpetual beginnings.
  • Nov 26 2012: I have taught for 34 years.

    Merit pay for teachers is moot. Our education system needs to change and become part of the "real world". Society needs to play a greater role in educating our children and assume some responsibility for their success. The education system as it stands was designed to produce factory workers after the WWII. Factories, manufacturing and resource development were the mainstay of our economies (I'm Canadian). It was possible to finish grade 8 and get a job. This is no longer the case, especially with educational inflation. Childhood, a time of no responsibilities, is lasting longer 25+.

    We need to look at the cost of our education systems now and the price of the failures because what I am proposing will cost money but in a different way. Schools should work with children age 6 to 14 and teach them the basics. There are excellent social studies and science units that need to be continued and the arts should definitely be supported. We know too much about brain based learning to not include the arts. As much as possible, learning should be experiential as supported by volumes of brain research.

    At age 14 the child's education should be in the real world for 3 years of volunteering. This work should cross socioeconomic boundaries and also allow for some personal choice in careers of the child's choosing. Society should keep the children "in school" meaning "at work". We need a village to raise our children.

    At age 17 the children should return to public education. I imagine they will do so with a new perspective on life. Curriculums need to be scrutinized carefully. How much time needs to spend story writing. Which students need to learn calculus, algebra, physics. Subjects should be more preparatory for life in general and the next stage of their learning. More learning needs to happen in situ.

    There are huge flaws and gaps in what I have suggested but I only have 53 characters left. Education needs to adapt.
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    Nov 25 2012: Three things come to mind:

    1) Teachers average pay is 44K for approximately 800 hours of work and that is about 55 per hour. The average for the hourly wage earner is 44,657.61 for 2080 hours which is about 22 per hour. (both off of the web) So I work almost three time longer to earn the same amount and then have to sit and listen to them bitch about it. However unions are not happy with this .. can't figure out what would make them happy if this imbalance doesn't. So I suggest that if you are not happy with the contract ... don't sign it. If you do ... man up.

    2) If a teacher is not living up to the contract do not renew their services for the next year. If it involves a morals clause fire them. You signed a contract that says you will teach the kids to a certain standard ... do it.

    3) In Arizona teachers evaluations have been tied to students grades. This leads to many things none of them good. High stakes testing ... teaching the test ..... and grade designing so as to ensure a passing grade will be achieved. The key to teacher tenure and raises is now in the hands of a 12 year old.

    I have a real problem with this as there are kids who should be held back. By tying the teachers career to the kids grades we have stopped meaningful assessments, encouraged possiable cheating, and advancement without merit. There is another problem that is debatable .... how will this impact administrators. They are also tied to the students successes and failures ... plus the additional pressure of attempting to maintain a full staff.

    All in all it would be easier to just root out the rotten teachers that are dragging the system down. Unfortunately it is easier said than done. Next pass the deserving .... that takes the big load off of the next teacher ... we hire the superintendents and principals to do a job, get out of their way and let them earn their money ... they fail .. fire them.

    I know ... I'm a softy. Bob.
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    Dec 1 2012: Teachers should be paid well enough to live a comfortable life. Education is the responsibility of the family and unfortunately most families do not realize this fact. Parents do not have to be well educated to be involved in their child's education. They only have to be concerned and involved. The public and legal structure of the education system should be structured to enforce this idea.
  • Nov 30 2012: NO WAY!!! Watch this TED TALK and you'll get your answer with evidence that merit based compensation DOESNT WORK!!
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    Nov 30 2012: I can't think of many occupations other than teachers, firefighters, and police that seem to suggest that each and everyone of them are all outstanding at what they do. They're not. As with every other occupation there is a bell shaped curve of competence with exceptionally good and bad at the extremes, most everyone else towards the middle.

    Why shouldn't there be performance reviews tied to their "product", which is educated students? I know they don't control the flow of resources necessary to do their jobs but what group of workers does?
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      Nov 30 2012: Of course there are annual performance reviews for teachers! No one questions the desirability of that! And ratings typically vary from some form of "needs improvement" to "outstanding."

      The question here is, rather, whether their pay should be based on a formula that adds pay in relation to how much specifically a student grew in their subjects that year. Should a teacher whose students achieved 14 months of growth in the year be paid more than someone whose students made a year's worth of growth in the year, however those are measured?

      That, not performance reviews, is the question.
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        Nov 30 2012: Hi Fritzie,.

        "Of course there are annual performance reviews for teachers! No one questions the desirability of that!"

        That isn't the situation here in the US and I am remiss in not making clear that is what I was referring to. I assumed Yohann's question had to do with the US given his reference to the presidential election, but maybe not ("I don't know if the question is still relevant, I haven't followed it until recently but I heard it was quiet a debate at the Presidential election and wanted to know what he TED community thought of this.")

        There are (US) teachers who favor pay tied to performance but there are far more who don't, not at least reviews tied to grades or student "growth" as you called it. Yohann was correct in saying that was a big debate in the US and not just during to the recent presidential election. It is ongoing with teaches largely united and politically very active through their teacher unions. However given the dismal and getting worse results coming from our schools there is a growing sense that something has to change.

        I am in favor of advancement and pay tied to student academic achievement but will leave the details of how best to do that to those who better understand the issues than I do.

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          Dec 1 2012: Are there places you know of in the United States where teachers are not subject to performance reviews? That comes as a surprise to me.

          I know 50% of states require teacher evaluations that are based in part on measures of student growth.

          Where are you thinking has no teacher performance evaluations?
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          Dec 1 2012: I hear what you are saying Bill, but the with any bonus system the devil is always in picking the metric. The one true metric is the market place and that is how it should work imo. This eliminates the inevitable gaming of the system and gets rid of the bubbles that are inevitable with government involvement. So my suggestion would be a bigger threat to teachers which would be privatize the whole deal especially at the federal level. On the other hand someone like Fritzie would make more money as she should because you can tell she is in for the purpose not the money. But most state college professors would want to kill me, but they would have to get in line.
  • Nov 30 2012: Well that's certainly an interesting method of approaching this.. I certainly didn't treat this as a "competition" as much as I did a "conversation". What I wanted to do was provide a part of a framework for the implications of applying a merit based system to an industry that is typically associated with appreciation and fulfillment, rather than solely monetary rewards.

    Keep in mind that money doesn't buy happiness, don't take it from me, take it from this (brief!) article -,9171,2019628,00.html - $75000 is the average amount of household income before "happiness" tapers off from income.

    My father worked as a clinical psychologist for 19 years, before making the transition to his current position. Despite the long hours and low pay, he found his work to be extremely SATISFYING and FULFILLING and often told me that when your job doesn't feel like a job, it's easy to go to "work" everyday.

    So with all of that in mind, along with my previous post, Im sure there's a place for merit based systems for teachers.. Im sure you can do that for a variety of industries.. but it's a fallacy to believe that providing monetary rewards for higher student grades, attendance, or good-behavior would only cure the bad and keep the good. Providing monetary rewards causes the receiver of those benefits to look only at short term goals as a means to an end and clouds the judgment of the individual. I am NOT supposing that these individuals are "bad" people, it's that our brains react differently from a neurological perspective when rewarded with these types of systems. As such, back to my original post, there are other pitfalls that can occur based on merit based systems.

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      Nov 30 2012: You are right, of course, that many people forego some income to do work they find gratifying. It's like most choices in that way. The options we face present us with a combination of attributes, and people choose differently depending on the relative values they place on those attributes. A job has more attributes than only the income we derive from it.

      One of our TED speakers, a Law and Economics prof at Harvard named Yochai Benkler, has a paper that comes immediately to mind in which he puts forward an analytical model that captures this from the standpoint of the activities we choose to pursue. The paper is called Coase's Penguin, because it is based on seminal work by a well known economist named Coase. The paper is kind of a slog unless you enjoy reading economics, but if you do, it is interesting. He develops his models particularly out of an interest in understanding where volunteerism fits into to economic thinking.
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        Nov 30 2012: True story but the collective and collectively are 2 different things the prior being ants going around in a circle as most voters do.
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      Nov 30 2012: money does not buy happiness is the same statement as height does not make you a good basketball player. yet, we all agree that height is a major factor in basketball, though not the only one. and one can cite data all day long proving that height is not the only factor. it just does not make height any less important.

      money DO buy happiness, or at least many things we need, and we all know that. it needs some sort of global trance to deny that obvious fact. can we say that better health services does not grant happiness? or ability to work less? better school for our children? more comfortable housing? internet connectivity? these things all cost money. or we conclude that those listed things are not important? we should not aspire for better health services, better food, better accommodation and all? thanks, but no thanks. everyone is free to follow any set of values. my values contain these things. and i don't care how many studies someone puts forward, i don't want anyone to tell me what to value and what to want.
  • Nov 30 2012: At first glance merit pay for teachers sounds good. Effective teachers can generate higher base pay as an incentive to remain in education and improve student performance. How do we determine merit? Student grades, student test scores, principal evaluations, student evaluations, parent evaluations, or peer evaluations are all factors to consider. How do we determine the correct balance of these factors? Other things to consider like what test do we use cognitive abilities test, IQ test, basic skills test, wrote memorization test which best measure student achievement? Additional questions like is effectiveness tied to growth and development. For instance one teachers class is full of high performing students who have been well taught by previous teachers and test scores improve .25%, however another teacher classroom is full of under preforming students who have been poorly taught and test scores go up 3% how do you determine which teacher is the more effective educator? You have a good question that politicians can't or unlikely to solve.
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      Nov 30 2012: how about this: good teacher is a teacher that parents choose to teach their children?
      • Nov 30 2012: That would mean that the parent is qualified to identify a good teacher.
        Besides, in Belgium the parents pick schools, not a collection of individual teachers.
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          Nov 30 2012: not necessarily. if we have free choice of doctors for example, it does not mean people have to identify a good doctor. to do that, they would have to be doctors themselves. but they have many aids. they can trust a doctor based on track record, employing institution, the insurance the doctor has, second opinion from another doctor, occasional check of diagnoses and proposed treatments on the internet, trial and error, and so on. or another example would be buying a car. i personally don't know anyone that does not check internet forums, review pages, peer opinion and lot of other sources.

          how do we know that the harvard is a good university? because we check the curriculum, and assess the professors ourselves? nope. we just trust the reputation of the school that is constantly reinforced by many studies, opinions and results.

          why can't we use the same method to choose schools? and a school board is pretty much capable to decide whether a candidate fits their standards or not.
      • Nov 30 2012: I doubt that many people would do the research needed to really make sure the school is solid.
        There are just too many variables in the equation, and way too many are subject to bias. It's just too easy to forget to check just 1 thing, that one thing you forgot has the potential to seriously diminish your chances of making a correct choice.

        And higher pay does not mean higher quality. Not in this world.
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          Nov 30 2012: I think many districts make it very easy to tell which schools are good, and parents tend to know. In districts with school choice, there are frequently data on a single website showing all sorts of data about individual schools and there are visit days.

          Selecting teachers themselves is a different story. Again, word travels as to which are the best teachers, but practical class size limits as well as the need to schedule students into six or seven classes to cover all the subjects makes the actual parent selection of teachers in all subjects impossible.

          Schools are also not expandable indefinitely and the best schools tend to have waiting lists in places with school choice.
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          Nov 30 2012: today nobody does, since all schools are very similar, and many places, like here, you can not even choose, or only in a very limited way. but if the choice is free, people choose. i remember my parents took me out of one school, and put in another, as it had better reputation. also, the same thing is commonplace for universities. it is strange to me that you doubt that. for me, nothing is more natural than parents looking for information about schools, constantly monitoring their performance, discussing with other parents, etc. humans are extremely good handling many variables. we do that every day with a wide variety of products and services. the same objections could be raised about everything, starting with cellphone providers, through flats and cars, to bars of chocolate. but you don't want to take these choices away from people, based on the impossibility of a perfect choice.
      • Nov 30 2012: Be very weary of easy solutions!

        Sorry but 'reputation' is based on a mix of a lot flawed opinions to me.

        I encourage a system in which any choice is a good choice and only some are perfect/less good.
        I know that IS attainable.
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          Nov 30 2012: again: just like with any other fields. yet, we trust these reputations every day. you are falling for the "nirvana fallacy". you compare a solution you oppose to perfectness, and reject if falls short. on this very basis, you should reject the current, and in fact any education systems.
      • Nov 30 2012: I am absolutely NOT talking about a perfect world, that would be an absolute waist of time.
        Finland has an educational system that works as described.
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          Nov 30 2012: then god know what you are talking about. i have explained what tools are there for a parent, and how it works in every other area of life. then you said that reputation is based on flawed opinions, and that would somehow invalidate the concept. everything has flaws, and every approach is somewhat error prone. so this is not a counterargument to anything. choosing cell phone is based on flawed opinion. choosing diet is based on flawed opinion. choosing place of living is based on flawed opinion. yet we are fine with freedom in these.
  • Nov 29 2012: Money is a lousy motivator, too-big-to-fail banks and the bubble they created being a prime example.
    The resistance to change will make people want to cut corners, remember, the goal is more pay, not more quality.
    Even more so when you're in a tight shoe.
    Teachers need to learn ways to make their courses fun/interesting/challenging. In time, that will make teacher a more attractive career choice.
    It is a slow process but once it gains momentum it will fuel itself.
  • Nov 28 2012: I think merit-based pay or at least some sort of merit-based incentive program (for things both useful and at least indirectly under the control of teachers) could and should definitely have a place in any educational system. However, I think it would be a mistake to see it as the solution that will solve all the system's problems. MOST of our teachers are wonderful and really just need the resources to make sure their students have all they need to learn and study and the freedom to creatively teach the most useful material to their students. There are some bad eggs, however, that are really terrible teachers but are protected, usually by teachers' unions, in their positions as teachers of children. My question is: How do we protect our children from having years of their lives taken by these "teachers" without robbing the good ones of the time and resources they need to do their jobs well?
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    Nov 28 2012: Karl Marx and the unions still believe that the value of the product is in the skill of the worker. The unions have placed the thought in your head that if you pay the teacher vast amounts your students will be the smartest. That has been proven wrong so many times but yet is still a union perspective. As Pat has stated California has the highest pay and some of the lowest test scores. On the other side Utah has one of lowest pays and some of the highest test scores. When we stop the money to knowledges comparision we may find out what works and focus on that.

    Each teacher bargins for their contract pay. If you are not happy ... walk. Each district writes their own evaluation guides. The union has said that a principal or superintendent must make a appointment to visit the classroom or must make a appointment to schedual a evaluation day. That is stupid. Teachers should be visited on no notice and frequently. Only by a number of visits and other factors can the teacher be fairly evaluated. I cannot make a fair assessment on one hour a year of observation.

    Then the question of what is "merit". We had a "bad" teacher that was given incentives to stay with the school including the teacher of the year that schocked the community and was the topic of many board meetings. It was stated that we have problems getting special ed teachers into our small community so we "needed" her. That was the "merit".

    Perhaps the answer is what is used by government and industry. A pay scale that states the amount and the conditions for that rate. i.e. Bachlors X points, Masters X points, years service X points, evaluation, etc .. points equate to a rate. This would be using the same rubric for everyone. Merit is a relative term and non specific. Big schools big budget ... small schools small budget. This may level the playing field.

    Merit is not the answer. Bob.
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      Nov 28 2012: so you list two stupid definitions of merit, propose a third, and they conclude that merit is not the answer? maybe if we define it well? how about that:

      merit is what freely interacting individuals praise, and are willing to pay for.
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        Nov 28 2012: Hmm now there is an idea maybe we should try that?
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        Nov 28 2012: Krisztian it always great to talk to someone who is respectful .. but instead I will answer you. The freely interacting individuals .... who would they be? The union and perhaps the principal with a review at the superintendents office. In the public system there is a budget to consider. Therefore what they are willing to pay is not a player. That is how economics work. If I do not have it then I cannot spend or obligate it. Our government leaders were sick the day they taught money managenment. Just because you or I praise something does not give it merit.

        So there is some more stupid thoughts that you can pass insult on.

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          Nov 28 2012: in the public system, there are no freely interacting individuals. in a free education system, the freely interacting individuals are the parents at first, then teachers, school managers, school owners, the students and all people involved.
        • Nov 28 2012: Perhaps "Should we?" and "How would we?" should occasionally be considered as separate questions...
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        Nov 29 2012: Under free education system wikipedia states that the United states has a free education system. They seem more inclined to think that it is such if you do not have to pay tution and the costs are bared by taxes. However we do not have managers nor owners. For the sake of clarification please tel me what a "free education system" is and how it differs from the US public school system.

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      Nov 28 2012: Hi, Robert. What you describe is different in different states. What you describe as a payscale with points for education and years of service is what most public school contracts involve rather than individual negotiations between teacher and school district.

      The evaluation practices differ as well. In the district where I worked in a k12 classroom and on an administrative level, a principal or an assistant principal had to schedule AT LEAST one observation per year, but school and district administrators could and did walk into any classroom at ANY time. There were also days parents could come in in groups, with teachers able to opt out only if students were taking a test or something.

      Individual parents needed to make an appointment with the teacher to come at another time.

      I have had six or eight building principals walk into my classroom at once and watch for awhile and as many as twenty-five parents at a time while I am teaching.

      The teacher was not expected to engage with the adults who visited, but as a courtesy, many of us might say a few words to give context.

      When I taught young kids in university programs, not only could administrators walk in but teachers and families were asked to sign releases so administrators could take photos while they were there.
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        Nov 29 2012: What you describe is great. Unfortunately it is not what we practice.

        As you say there is no set standard throughout. Is that a problem or a blessing?
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          Nov 29 2012: There are some things that make sense, and one might hope that without a blanket institutionalization, individual jurisdictions might choose to do what makes sense for kids.
  • Nov 28 2012: Problem is not teachers, problem is that school is work and no amount of arguing is going to increase childrens intelligence. We should be taking a scientific approach to education, not an economic one. If you don't understand the limits of children and teachers any money you do spend is wasted regardless.
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    Nov 27 2012: answer me a question, dear commenters. if teachers are paid not based on merit, then based on what?
    • Nov 28 2012: I think the better question is: What constitutes 'merit'?
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        Nov 28 2012: that is a good question indeed, after one came to the conclusion that merit is the only way to go.
        • Nov 28 2012: Why? Maybe (actually quite likely, considering people can't even agree on a definition of teacher merit) assessing a teacher's merit is so difficult and error prone that it's more cost-effective to just pay all teachers the same wage. I mean it's basically as unfeasible and inefficient as the state planning your needs for you (communism), so you of all people should understand why it probably won't work.

          @Fritzie below

          Sure, that's not how it works in the US (which isn't the only country in the world: in much of Europe all teachers in the same country with the same longevity get paid the same, there are no "districts"), but that's not the point, the point is that it might be more cost-effective to not factor in some measure of merit.
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          Nov 28 2012: This reply is to John. In the United States teachers are not all paid the same wage. The wage is different in different districts, and two teachers teaching the same content/curriculum will not necessarily receive the same wage. Traditionally those who have taught longer in a district will be paid more than novice teachers, and those with more education either in the subject they teach or in education typically are paid more than those with less education for the same amount of k12 classroom experience. Longevity in the job counts a great deal more, usually, than academic preparation.

          As an example, a high school teacher with a doctorate in physics who has taught secondary school for two years might be paid less than half of what a first grade teacher is paid with twenty years experience.

          Pay is negotiated between the district and the labor union subject to a fixed amount of money allocated by the state for salaries.

          I am not a specialist in school finance, but I believe this is typically how it works.
          Beyond this, it is, perhaps, like the way nurses are paid. Historically they have been expected to do their best for each person in their care, while operating within the rules and with the materials that are authorized for their use. Just as nurses are not paid on the basis of the health of the patient, teachers have not traditionally been paid based on how successful the students are on standardized tests, though that is commonly part of the teacher's evaluation.
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      Nov 28 2012: Based on what the customer is willing to pay, i.e. the free market.
      • Nov 28 2012: That's not gonna work because education is one of those things that are only open to the general public because the rich pay more for it than the poor. If it was a free market the current quality could not be maintained for children of poor parents.
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          Nov 28 2012: Yup that is the common myth.

          You first have to consider that public schools are subsidized by the government by the time the money is skimmed by multiple layers of beauracy a much smaller percentage makes its way to the school.

          There was a video today on how traffic jams can be and are fixed by keeping the decision process of how to route traffic from the bottom up this makes a big difference. Point is that by keeping the decisions at the local level there would be increased efficiencies as the person who knows best how to use the resources are at the local level

          So this money would remain at the local level.

          If you privatize the whole education system the better schools are going to have better teachers. But the higher quality private schools would raise the tide for all schools. By pushing competition into the school system the entire system would improve. The good teachers would make more money and the level of all the education would be raised.
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          Nov 28 2012: and we need to believe that because ... government officials ... say so?
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        Nov 28 2012: "Based on what the customer is willing to pay"

        also known as "merit"
        • Nov 28 2012: Right, that's why a $200 Nike sneaker has 4 times the quality of another brand's $50 sneaker made in the same Chinese factory, also, a $2000 iMac is clearly twice as powerful as a $1000 PC with the same hardware, last but not least those $80.000 designer handbags clearly have 1000 times the quality of an $80 handbag made in the same Chinese factory.

          Everyone knows convenience (location for example), marketing hype and prestige factor into any pricing system just as much as quality, well almost everyone.
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          Nov 28 2012: "Based on what the customer is willing to pay"

          No. That is purely a materialistic measure that has no basis whatsoever in a measure of quality.
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          Nov 28 2012: "that has no basis whatsoever in a measure of quality."

          Only an thoroughly indoctrinated socialist could say that.

          Please view the countries view over time

      • Nov 28 2012: I don't think that I can agree that privatizing the whole education system is a workable solution. I went to a good private school and count myself extremely lucky for the quality of education I received. I'm also a teacher (albeit a very new one).

        The problem I have with the free market approach is that I don't see how it benefits those customers at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Without the means to pay for a first-rate education, one must rely on inferior instruction, or possibly no education at all. Or if we decide that everyone must have an education and offer loans, we increase the amount of debt a student must acquire.

        Even if we look at Charter Schools in the US (private schools working with their own charter within the public school system), the quality of the education is not guaranteed to be better than in a comparable public school. Overall, Charter School students test at a slightly lower rate than public school students (with some exceptions). Of course, Charter Schools are a hybrid model, so I realize it's not really free-market

        Merit based pay is something I'd be in favor of as a teacher. But not only is "merit" problematic, so is the concept of assessment. Our current models of assessment tell us who is good at passing exams in bizarre and artificial circumstances and tell us nothing of what the student actually knows or understands. Come to that, we should probably come up with an agreed upon definition of intelligence.

        To me, the problem is that we don't really know what we're educating people for. Public Education was founded in the US to create a citizenry who were educated enough to take part in democracy. then it was to instill a sense of citizenry, then to create educated workers, later business people, now to create college-ready students (that is, we are educating people to be able to be educated later). It may be time to rethink what education is for before we can discuss the merits of a teacher.
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          Nov 28 2012: The devil is in selecting the metric, as you state it is much harder than it appears.

          Which is why I think the metric that will be the most closely scrutinized is known as the market price or economic equilibrium.

          We have the opposite of this in Calif where the teachers are some of the highest paid in the country and the test scores are some of the lowest in the country. Even if they just taught to the test it would be an improvement. I guess you cannot legislate children into knowledge?
      • Nov 28 2012: That the market value would be more closely scrutinized I agree with. That this would produce better overall results I'm not convinced of. I suspect that it'd produce a small number of highly educated children and a much larger number of very poorly educated children.

        I would also argue that you can legislate children into knowledge, as demonstrated by the fact that a vast majority of the public can now read. How much knowledge and should that knowledge be counted as understanding or subject mastery is up for debate.

        Of course, I have strong biases. I'm not much of a free-market-is-the-answer kind of guy. I tend to believe that some things (health, education, public safety and so on) are more important that the whims of market forces. I DO think that teachers getting rewarded for excellent teaching is a decent idea, and I do feel that while the teaching unions in the US were founded for excellent reasons (to combat things like teachers being fired a week before they retired to stop them claiming their pension), they have become hugely problematic for all concerned. But an all out market force solution doesn't convince me.

        But without a clear idea of what it is we want the schools to actually DO, I think any concept of merit based teaching is doomed.
      • Nov 28 2012: I've seen it, it's a very interesting video.

        I didn't make any arguments because I suspect the majority of the conversation would be ideological. And while that can certainly be informative and interesting, it's not likely to convince anyone to change their minds. For example - a lot of my reservations are based on a concept of "complete free market" as morally suspect, which is a position I realize not everyone agrees with. Some people believe that education is not a human right (it's not in the US constitution for example), and still others believe that you only need to educate the elite of a society (a view I find bizarre, but one that was presented to me in all seriousness during a graduate class.)

        But you're right - there should be an argument to back up this gut feeling. The most cogent argument I could make in the space allowed might be to compare public education to public health. I grew up in the UK, moving to the US at age 31. If I examine the US healthcare system (which is currently about as close to fully privatized as I can imagine without removing the need to provide any healthcare at all to people without money), the statistics simply do not point to a free market leading to better service. The US has a pretty poor track record compared to other Westernized nations, and pays around double what the next country pays. I don't really see why we should expect fully privatized education to go the same way.

        I do however understand that not everyone feels that comparing US healthcare (or indeed education) to other countries works well, because there are a number of unique factors present or absent in the US that make such direct translation necessary.

        Almost every teacher I've ever met is left-leaning politically, which leads me to suspect that most teachers would have problems with full privatization. I don't expect to convince anyone who doesn't agree with me, so the best I can offer is the promise to treat the free-market view with respect.
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          Nov 28 2012: Healthcare in the U.S. is not really private. Medicare is a big factor on health care as it infuses the industry with cash. It is really a form of crony capitalism. As it has with housing and college education.

          Additionally it is set up so the customer is not aware of prices and do not care what they are.

          Is it any wonder that the students graduate with a liberal bent?

          Here is a fun fact for the first 150 years the government did not interfere in economic matters at all. Thinking swiftly and using the scientific matter how about we go back to what worked before?

          Before you say how terrible it was without the government realize that the U.S. has raised the standard of living of the world more than any other country in history and government had nothing to do with it quite the opposite. The history of the world is chalk full of exploiting people through the monopoly of government. The U.S. is the anomaly that has brought people up a notch by limiting government.
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        Nov 28 2012: A little off subject here, but I noticed an article online today summarizing the Wall street Journal's ratings of how well or poorly run particular states are. California, as you might have guessed, came in 50th of 50 states.
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          Nov 28 2012: Fritzie

          Please don't go off on a tangent while I'm trying to conduct a class. (8^(l)

          I'm surprised they rated Calif that high?
      • Nov 28 2012: Which is what I meant when I said this was going to be a largely ideological conversation, with little to no chance of changing anyone's mind.

        I absolutely agree that Healthcare in the US is not really private. But it's about as privatized as I can imagine without removing the need to ensure everyone has access to at least basic emergency needs. But yes, it's a hybrid model that doesn't fit either of our models well.

        It is, however, the most privatized system I can think of in that there is no equivalent of the National Health Service. (I'd point out that the UK also has private health insurance companies - though I'm bringing it up mostly because most people seem to see privatization as an either/or solution.) Public healthcare - to continue the tangent - is not a case of government monopoly exploiting the people. It is providing the services for those who cannot afford them.

        And so it is with education - I wish public schools could offer the same quality of education as the very best private schools, but at least private schools' existence allows those with the means to educate their offspring while freeing up resources for those who cannot.

        If we want to use the scientific method and return to the time when the government did not interfere with economic matters, first we'd need tome hard data that showed that as the unequivocal reason why life got so much better afterwards. That's a tall order. We would also have to explain why Canada currently has a higher standard of living than the US (well, last I checked - admittedly i'm citing a statistic that's almost a decade old)..

        We appear to be using very different models of thinking when we examine the world around us. I highly doubt that I'll convince you of the overall benefits of nationalization of public services any more than I don't expect you to be able to convince me of the benign power of the invisible hand. And now I am out of space.
      • Nov 28 2012: Because "obvious" doesn't mean the same thing as "true". One of the prime reasons we use the scientific method is to separate what we know to be true from what seems obvious to us.

        So when we see a correlation between smaller government interference in the economic decisions of a country and anything else, we cannot simply state that it must be true that one caused the other without data to demonstrate WHY it did. To do otherwise is to commit the fallacy of causal correlation.

        I do thank you for the updated statistic - I'll look into it deeper when I have more time. Either way, until we can agree on the causal connection between "small government" and "better education", it's not really going to convince me.
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          Nov 28 2012: Yup but the correlation is an excellent place to start doing something we of the enlightened persuasion like to think of as Looking. And of course you cannot assume that a correlation is not the cause either.

          I think the best way to divine the truth out of these debates is something we of the enlightened persuasion like to call: do it work or don't it. So even without the benefit of an academics infinite ability to filter we can use what works. E.G. The case of Samual Pierpoint Langley verses the Wright brothers.
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        Nov 28 2012: Sixteen years ago, I was on the negotiating team for an urban school district. We were out to show the advantage to students if the teacher's union were to accept two things we really wanted.

        Our top priority was building based hiring in which the principal with the advice of a building team could hire the best teachers he/she could get for openings in the building. This was to replace the former system (which may still be commonplace in this country) in which openings were filled, rather, by letting teachers choose jobs on the basis of seniority. In the old system, the building had to take the most senior person who wanted the job!

        When we got our unions to accept this, it was considered a breakthrough contract for a district to achieve with a union. Buildingbased hiring replaced the seniority system.

        The second thing we wanted was a merit pay plan. We put forward a metric in which a portion of teacher pay would be connected to the students' growth during the year. The key feature, though, was that we would look at merit in terms of the growth one would expect based on data for comparable students to those the teacher was teaching rather than students in the district at large. Some groups of students are much more challenging to teach than others, and the expected growth would be different.

        Our idea was to compare across the district how much growth a teacher achieved relative to classes in the district with similar students and to reward the top x%. I cannot remember whether it was 10% or what.

        We didn't get this for a couple of reasons I remember. One was that the union leaders felt they could not be sure that whatever metric we agreed to wouldn't be manipulated later so as not take into account the differential challenges in teaching different groups of students. The other issue was that teachers felt they were constrained from doing their best by district curriculum and instructional mandates.
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          Nov 28 2012: Ok Fritzie consider yourself asked.

          This metric stuff is very tricky, I have beat over the head with stuff more than I care to admit, fortunately I have developed calluses.

          I love the building based hiring idea.

          The metric idea sound workable but in my experience people always figure out a way to game the system. But anything is better than the union and it's rules.

          3 points on this subject.

          Individuals flourish in small groups as with your building team.

          Bottom up trumps top down always, but that does not mean you don't need a top it just has to stay the hell out of the way of the bottom. There is a management philosophy called Lean manufacturing which stems from Toyota that has been successful in implementing bottom up in government and the unions. It is so successful that it is dare I say exciting.

          The only metric system I have seen work is 2 individual voluntarily exchanging with each other. Not to mention that exchange is the genesis of innovation.
      • Nov 28 2012: Well, we've gone from a debate to thinly veiled insults, so I'm not sure what use this conversation actually has at this point. When you start referring to yourself as "we of the enlightened persuasion", all I can do is reply as "we of the rational persuasion". That we don't agree doesn't make either of us stupid or ill educated.

        Unless you can demonstrate WHY something works and HOW something works, "do it work or don't it" is indistinguishable from magical thinking. Yes, correlation does not rule out causation. I never argued that it did. I argued that if you want to make a point like that, correlation isn't enough. Until we agree that life WAS better FOR those reasons, it's not a solution we agree on. It's what we of the rational persuasion call "thinking".

        Anyway, this is getting out of hand fast. The truth is, I do respect your point of view. I don't find it persuasive, but I admit that the reasons I don't find myself persuaded aren't reasons you share. It is, however, not universally recognized that complete privatization of education (or any social system) is to anyone's net benefit. That's not to say that that point of view is false. It's that it's not going to convince everyone, certainly not in the way you're presenting it.

        And with that, I need to bow out. Long evening ahead of me.
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          Nov 28 2012: The sarcasm was in reference to me submitting that today's standard of living was brought to you by the free market. Yet you won't accept that, do you see that that might be met with a certain amount of incredulity?

          Have a nice day.
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        Nov 28 2012: The problem I see with fully privatised education is that there will be a small percentage of the population that can't afford to pay enough to keep a school functioning. The bottom 5% cant afford the cheapest available school but aren't a big enough population to support a cheaper school. It may be an Australian thing due to population density. For example we have government subsidies to encourage doctors to set up practice in rural areas as there are many small town that aren't big enough to support a doctor on their own but the nearest town that is big enough is 200 miles away. If you're a farmer in some parts of AUS your nearest neighbour is 100 miles away.
    • Nov 28 2012: Check out Drive by Daniel Pink and Sway by... some 2 brothers (cant remember their names at the moment sry!). Anyway, both books discuss this exact concept. The issue is that your brain reacts differently to tasks when its rewarded monetarily than.. say.. because its something your driven to do.. and do well. MeritMonetary based reward systems bring out short-term motives in people. Im not saying theres no room for merit based systems.. but there are several sociological pitfalls that can occur unless planned for.
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        Nov 28 2012: you did not answer my question. but okay, lets reply to that.

        recommending a book is a win. either the opponent will reject reading it for being too taxing, in this case you can claim victory. or he starts reading, then probably follow up on the references, research opposing arguments, etc, which takes from weeks to years. in this case the opponent disappears, so you win.

        instead, you might present the findings here.

        i know many "experiments" in which experimenters tried to test whether monetary gain is a good motivator. the very idea of testing seems strange in the light of the fact that we tested it for centuries and the results are marvelous. compare the life of anyone today to anyone 200 years back, and see the difference for yourself. so i see completely relevant how many evidence is stacked up on the other side, as long as it is less then a million. not to mention basic logic and introspection. everyone considers the payment when taking a new job. everyone moves to areas with higher average salary. people give the reason of higher salaries when choosing universities, etc. so come on!
  • Nov 27 2012: How does 'merit' get measured? -By our children who take a standardized test? Is this an appropriate position to put children in? I am not saying that I am opposed to teacher evaluations; however, evaluate teachers' professionalism and engagement in action, not through high stakes testing of children. What about students who learn differently, or more slowly, or communicate better graphicaly or orally? High stakes standardized testing is not a real world experience- it is a fabrication of the education system, an artificial measure of what our children can remember in a one or two hour session on one specific day in a year. It seems a bit arbitrary. Evaluate teaching based on whether or not students are learning the skills that actually matter in their world. Do students have the skills to manage and extract the relevant information and knowledge to complete a task? To solve a problem? To communicate a strategy and possible solutions? To represent their learning? These skills are not easily measured in a standardized test. Foundational literacy and numeracy skills are essential and can be easily measured in a high stakes standardized test that would result in potential bonus pay for teachers in a 'merit pay' evaluation system. However, I am not confident that merit pay will make one bit of difference to the knowledge, skills and understanding that our children need to become successful, contributing members of society (if this is what the goal of our education system is).
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      Nov 27 2012: I heard a heart-wrenching story today from my neighbor about her kindergartener at the neighborhood public school who now has to take thrice yearly standardized tests on computer to measure his progress. The way the test works is that the student is given more and more difficult questions until he misses one after another. The test is in math and verbal.

      The five year old came home upset that he wasn't "smart enough to answer the questions."

      While districts are required to give these tests in order to qualify for federal grants, families are permitted to opt out. This will be my neighbor's kid's last test.
      • Nov 27 2012: I think the fallout for students in a 'merit - pay' system is far too great for children. The impact such a system has on children is often overlooked, as in the example you shared.
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          Nov 28 2012: The testing is happening, though, in public schools regardless of merit pay. I think assessment is important, but large-scale standardized testing tends to measure learning poorly, takes an enormous amount of time that could be used for instruction, and is extremely disruptive of student learning.
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    Nov 26 2012: Would it be easier to sell merit based pay if it was structured as a one off bonus payment received if your class has results above a certain level. From a teacher's perspective the problem with merit based pay as it is normally suggested is that the results you get from any one class in any one year are only about 50% reliant on the teacher. For example I once had a 12th grade science class in which the top student who was heading for a 90th percentile result (from all indications) fell pregnant 3 months from the end of the year and dropped out.
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    Nov 26 2012: If teacher's pay was proportional to their merit the taxpayers could save a heap of money!
    • Nov 26 2012: Who needs all that book learnin' anyway?
  • Nov 26 2012: "What do you think of merit-based pay for teachers?"

    The idea sounds nice, but how do you measure a teacher's "merit" reliably? I mean how do you ensure you're not rewarding teachers for choosing to work at a school in a good neighborhood, or for teaching the students towards the test score exams and nothing else? I'm amazed how so many of the usually anti-government type are screaming for a government bureaucracy here instead of letting the principals decide which teachers should be fired.
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      Nov 26 2012: Hi, John. I cannot remember what country you call home, but in the United States, principals do not fire teachers. They do often have ways of getting rid of them, depending on what the labor contracts for teachers and principals allow. But more often than not, the poor teachers just get shuffled to other schools.

      In one district with which I have experience, principals have the complete right to determine what people teach, with the only restrictions being the number of different courses a teacher can be assigned simultaneously and the fact that a teacher needs to have credentials to teach the subject. So let's say a principal doesn't like a teacher for some reason- performance, not being happy to attend meetings, "talking back"... He can assign the teacher to teach three different courses that are extremely challenging to teach because the students tend to come to the courses poorly prepared or are not intrinsically motivated or present disciplinary problems.
      (I give this only as an example, as many teachers prefer such sections. Most don't, because they entered the profession to work with students on content rather than to manage behavior).
      There are other strategies principals can often use as well, but one reason, perhaps, that you are not seeing the suggestion of firing teachers who do not put forward effective effort is that it is seldom an option in the US, given the governing labor contracts.

      Of course one can always fire teachers for criminal behaviors.
  • Nov 26 2012: The problem with the idea of merit based pay for any occupation is the fact that so many variables come into play. For example, I am a 15 year old highschool student, and know for a fact that many of my peers would make merit based pay for teachers a nightmare. So many of them misbehave and just dont care about school, that if teachers were payed based on grades, attendance, behavior or any other median, the students they taught would greatly affect their pay. That being said, it might convince teachers to be more stern and to try harder, but that still would cause problems, as students in my age group have little respect or worry about their teachers or education. We need to find a way to either cut those students out or to get better ways to show them that their education now will really affect their future. Until then, no other school changes will benefit greatly our modern community wether it be students, staff, parents, or teachers.
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      Nov 26 2012: Thank you for offering a student perspective. Thoughtful people who 'live in" a situation do often have greater appreciation than outsiders of "the fact that so many variables come into play." Things tend to look simpler from the outside.
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      Nov 26 2012: I hear what you are saying Tyler. On the other end, if you have teachers who have no accountability e.g. the Calif teachers are some of the highest paid yet academic scores are some of the lowest.
      • Nov 26 2012: This is true, as there are some teachers that dont have a great care or love for the job. I have fund however, that many teachers do honestly enjoy teaching and being around students, my grandmother taught for 40+ years and loved it. That being said, with the school districts cutting their rights and the students acting like idiots, it takes the joy out of teaching. Now a days, teachers are to busy taking care of behavior and political issues to actually enjoy the teaching experience that most people hope to find as teachers.
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          Nov 26 2012: From what you are saying there are 2 different problems.

          One is more of a question, what is the metric for a teacher.

          The second is a matter of ethics or rules for schools. This too has 2 sides. For sure these days it has swung way to far toward being PC and the rules are from the top down. I think the main problem is with students who are 15 and up. At this age if they are not going to go to college let them work. As to the kids who just want to create trouble there are programs for them which basically boil down to making them confront the realities of life through techniques that work. If the kids are not that bad then the catholic schools have a handle on creating a culture that embraces learning.
      • Nov 26 2012: Mr. Gilbert, you would be amazed at the number of students grade 8 and under that have the same problems as teenagers. True, some of this is due to age, however a lot of it is from seeing the behavior of the older students and a lack of accountability/responsibility in parents. I have seen kids in 3rd grade in my little brothers class that will have the same problems as kids in my age range when asked to due certain things. The behavior problems is rapidly growing down the age ladder. I do believe in your view on the college thing though, as it would make school better and cheaper, allowing for a smarter population and a better world.
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          Nov 26 2012: I get it. I'm not sure you are hearing what I'm saying.
      • Nov 27 2012: Mr. Gilbert, I didnt mean to sound arrogant or misunderstand you, but your resoning did lose me somewhat. If it wouldnt be too much of a bother, could you re-state your thinking? Thank you
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          Nov 27 2012: The Catholic nuns are good at creating an environment that keeps kids on the straight and narrow.

          Some kids are more trouble and have to be sent away. But there are programs that will get them straightened out for drug problems, etc. Friends of mine have sent their kids to them, they consist of being sent out into the wilderness and being put into survival mode to where they have to knock off the BS in order to survive. In effect it makes them face life as basically they are not facing life.

          And as I said before some kids just need to go to work. Some kids need hands on work.
      • Nov 27 2012: Thank you, that helps my understanding. I wasnt sure what you meant with the catholic school part. And yes, that kind of event or schooling would help many teens to see that BS wont carry them through life, and hopefully allow them to return to school or the workplace as more responsible and mature individuals. On the other hand, this may act as a stressor or a focal point for anger that may lead to more problems. It really depends on the individual and how the program is carried out, though for the most part it sounds like a really beneficial idea.
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      Nov 26 2012: Tyler, I support a duel cirruculum where student could opt into either a college prep course or a manual trades course. It is my opinion that this would help to relieve some of the problem. Kids would now be doing course that they chose .. not forced to do. As you say there are still those who would be disruptive. There is no easy answer, but there has to be a start .... perhaps this would help. What do you think?

      All the best. Bob.
      • Nov 27 2012: Mr. Winner, I myself am currently attending a college prep school, along with roughly 400 other students. I love this school, and have learned greatly from it. I do believe that a college prep school is a great place for students, though it would be to fast paced and ssrict for some people, and thats their choice. A trade school would allow those who wish to not attend college prep to learn a job, the problem being they are then specialized to that field if they dont like it/ get fired. That would be a great system to adopt, if we could get around that one problem. Perhaps a general trade school then more specialized ones based on interests or something along those lines?

        Hope that helps
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          Nov 27 2012: Under manual trades: Facilities maintenance (carpentary, plumbing, concrete, welding, electrical, heating, air conditioning, etc ...) Automotive tech (analyze, repair, remove and replace, wiring, electrical, schematic reading, osiliscope, body work, etc ...) Every trade has more than one component which makes the graduate qualified in many areas. How would being a trades person differ in job security that say a degree in english language, or a degree in physical education ... they would certainly have limitations if they were confined to the area of expertese.

          I agree that nothing is set and there are certainly avenues to explore but a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

          Thanks for the reply. Bob.
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    Nov 26 2012: Here is some scholarly work on this question: Researchers reporting in these articles will have measured the effects of merit pay programs that have been implemented rather than going on the basis of theory alone.
    And here is a briefing paper with some additional links:
    Unfortunately, statements one hears about teachers' motivations and pay are often incorrect or misleading, so I would always verify by looking at a number of sources, doubting particularly arguments made by those who have an obvious bias in the matter.
    Biases may be related to professional interests, political philosophy, or even personal bad experiences in the classroom in a person's youth.

    I agree with those who say that the metric you use will make a difference on the effect you get. One challenge with merit pay is that even before tossing in such a compensation schedule, the most qualified teachers tend to go to schools with students who are easiest to bring to high standards of educational achievement. Schools with students who come to school with a lot of challenges that making learning difficult have a hard time drawing- but more than that retaining- strong teachers.

    Metrics that compensate teachers based on how well their students perform on measures of achievement would make this problem even more serious.
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      Nov 26 2012: "doubting particularly arguments made by those who have an obvious bias in the matter."

      Would teachers be included in those with an obvious bias?
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        Nov 26 2012: Teachers unions would certainly be among those one might expect to be biased.
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    Gail .

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    Nov 25 2012: I would like all teachers to work in the private sector and compete for students. That will quickly separate the wheat from the chaf.

    Unionized public-sector jobs for those who teach a group who are required by law to be there seems to me to be the epitome of corruption.

    But it's not that simple. As US economic mobility spirals downward (compared to the rest of the western world), more and more are questioning the value of education. I blame this on our educational paradigms, not on our teachers who were victimized by the educational paradigm themselves. Black youth coming out of our inner cities know with certainty that the system is stacked against them. Education has lost its relevancy.

    First, we must restore relevancy to education, and we can't do that for as long as education exists to serve the military industrial complex and its financiers.
  • Nov 25 2012: Excellent points - but this and the difficulty of comparing two classes show the futility of so many excuses to get more money out of the public. Maybe the tutoring system is as good of a solution as we can find. Those who have a little money and care will get help. Over forty-five years ago n America there were screening systems for future scientists. I am sure there still are. Ultimately there are only jobs for a few physicts, dhemists, and mathematicians. Engineering jobs are way down for Americans That's why Mexico ;produces more engineers in a year than the U.S. does. The Masters of the Universe are really good about criticizing the victims, but these kids will have to get jobs to pay back their stuent loans.
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    Nov 24 2012: Yes

    But the devil is in determining the metric. The down fall of every organization since the beginning of time is in quality control. Since this area has to be scrutinized in other words not glossed over the best person for quality control is the customer as they are the best judge of what is best for them. Consequently schools that are held accountable to the customer are what should be endorsed.

    Educators generally do not understand the free market.
    • Nov 24 2012: The private domain has already figured out the answer to determining metrics. In some of the countries I have visited, I came across many parents who were sending their kids to private tuitions, which the kids would have to attend after their regular classes. Apparently, that's how the kids could remain competitive in their exams. As a quick check, I used a country-neutral search site ( to search for "private tuitions". I came across several articles about India, Pakistan, Dubai, Kuwait, and of course, I came across several website advertising their services.

      Parents usually use two methods to figure out to which tutor to send their kids: 1. how well students do in competitive exams 2. feedback from friends of their kids about each tutor.
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        Nov 24 2012: The argument is that the students are only taught for the test. I see validity to this argument.

        I would think that the parents are going to put more value in the recommendations.
        • Nov 24 2012: I agree. That is indeed the downside. Many of them do not go beyond rote-learning. Fundamental sciences are doing very badly in these countries.

          My Indian, Pakistani, and Iranian friends tell me that there are just a handful of excellent institutions in their countries, but the competition for those is intense. Those that want to do better go to one of the developed countries after their bachelors'.

          In my own field, when I look at research papers, I see quite a few people from these countries contributing with excellent, original research, but it is almost never through institutes of their country of origin.
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        Nov 24 2012: The problem to me centers around application. The way to test is not on memorization but on application, if you went to school to fry eggs the test should be let me see you fry an egg.