Part 1, Chapter 5: Merit Pay
In any profession, when we begin discussions on performance ratings, we tend to automatically think of merit pay. Merit pay is typically pay based upon performance, and the model has been used in the business world for decades, specifically in the sales field. Why else would an employee be motivated to perform well, if not for financial compensation?
The conflict within the education world is that teaching has historically been viewed as a service profession. Further, teachers do not depend upon an hourly rate or base salary, but have always been paid a fixed salary to complete tasks assigned. To suggest that they could earn more or less based upon performance is a foreign concept to the veteran teacher.
There still remains a belief among many that tying teacher evaluation to merit pay will motivate teachers to increase student achievement. New research suggests that this may not be the case. While the traditional “carrot and stick” (Pink, 2011, as cited by T. Whitlock, 2015, p. 74) model of extrinsic motivation works well when there is a clear, pre-determined set of expectations and one simple solution, this is not the case for teachers. For those working with students, there is often not one single solution, rather several possibilities for an outcome. Therefore, the if-then reward systems tended to block creativity, thus limiting employee productivity (T. Whitlock, 2015).
What, then, does motivate educators to improve performance? According to Whitlock, “participation in decision making, independence and expression of creativity are all drivers for high internal motivation.” (Pink, 2011, as cited by Whitlock, 2015, p. 74). To put it in simpler terms, teachers want to be listened to. This need is more obvious than ever today with the presence of social media. It doesn’t take long, while browsing Facebook, to see posts from teacher groups expressing the negatives of their profession such as low pay, long hours, and lack of support from parents. Linkedin, which is meant to maintain a more formal medium for professionals, has also become a forum for posts on the inequities of teacher pay and working conditions in comparison to other professions. These new platforms reiterate the idea that teachers seek a voice for their vocation.
There are two common concerns about merit pay in the field of education. The first is that in order to receive supplementary compensation, there must be a metric. Certainly, the teacher evaluation rubric is helpful here. Teachers and administrators still meet these changes with some resistance. Teachers who have not experienced an evaluation process built on constructive feedback fear variation to that which is familiar and being identified as the key influence on student achievement (Skourdoumbis, 2013). While student learning objectives may allow teachers to set their own goals related to student achievement, many remain concerned that outside factors, such as teacher/student relationships (Marzano, 2012), affecting student growth will not be taken into account.
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