Merit Pay for Teachers: Are These Really the Best Arguments Against It?

From the outset, let me say that I think merit pay proposals are often conservative ploys to defund public education, especially for students from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds. That said, as in every field, some teachers are more effective than others, and systems to measure the success of teachers are, in general terms, a good idea. Whenever the subject of merit pay comes up, though, reporters find teachers, who say things like this:

“When I look into the eyes of a student who I have taught in the past – or I stand at the door in the morning, and my students say, ‘Mrs. Gore, I love you,’ or ‘Mrs. Gore, You’re
such a good teacher’ – am I effective or not? I think I’m effective,” she said.


“Can you account for the child’s emotions? Can you account for whether their parents are getting them to school on time?” asked Sharon Vandagriff, a third-grade teacher near Chattanooga, Tenn.


“They’re looking at this as if we’re manufacturing automobiles,” said Sandy Hughes, who teaches high school English, French and Latin near Chattanooga. “With children, you’re working with unique individuals.”

Sigh. Mrs. Gore’s touching faith in the power of love is as valid as Ms. Vandagriff’s understanding of statistics. And, yes, Ms. Hughes, you are working with individuals, just like a waitress or doctor, both of whom are compensated based on the quality of their work. We absolutely can measure student achievement, and over time, that will give us a measure of the effectiveness of teachers and
teaching strategies. Whether that information should lead to merit pay or increased training for underperforming teachers is an interesting discussion, but to pretend that evaluative data
collection and measurement doesn’t apply to classroom teachers does a fundamental disservice to students who depend on us.