Really? Merit Pay For New York Teachers?

Merit pay for teachers is a hot topic these days, especially since it’s a crucial requirement if your state is trying to win any of the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” funds.

So far, Denver, CO, has been the city to implement the nation’s highest profile experiment in merit pay. In the Denver model, known as Pro-Comp, teachers can earn bonuses for teaching in hard-to-staff schools or subject areas, as well as for increasing student achievement. Standardized tests are one of the measures used in the evaluation of teachers.

And now, amazingly, as the New York Times reported yesterday, New York will join the ranks of those who are tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. Hard to believe, after the unions have opposed such a move so fiercely for years.

How will this system work? If the State Legislature approves the agreement reached between the State Education Department and New York’s teachers’ unions, it will mean that teachers are no longer rated simply satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Instead, annual evaluations will rate teachers as highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective. (Sort of similar to the ratings their students receive on those standardized tests.)

To earn their rating, teachers will be measured on a 100-point scale, with just 20 percent based on how much their students improve on standardized tests. Another 20 percent will be based on local tests, to be developed by each school system, and the remainder of the evaluation points will come from observations by principals and other measures. If rated ineffective for two consecutive years (it’s unclear what number of points equals ineffective), they would face firing.

There are a couple of interesting points to note here: New York did not win one of the coveted Race to the Top award on the first try, but if the State Legislature approves this legislation within ten days, New York will be in a better position to apply by June 1, the second deadline. It’s also the case that not all teachers instruct in areas that are tested by state exams, so the evaluation program would have to work differently for them.

How did this agreement make it past the teachers’ unions? It was a compromise. Richard Iannuzzi, the president of the state union, explained, “The concept of this has never been unacceptable. But doing it unilaterally or making evaluations solely dependent on students’ test scores were not options.” It’s also important that those evaluation points are based on how much students improve, rather than on attainment of a “one-size-fits-all” score.

There is no question that the current tenure system for teachers has to be modified; the challenge lies in finding a system that is fair, rigorous, and effective. Around the country, things are moving. This fall, the Harrison School District Two, in Colorado, will replace the traditional salary system with a pay system based entirely on observations of teacher practice and student-achievement results. In Louisiana, the House of Representatives agreed on Monday to revise public school teacher evaluations so that teachers would be partially graded on student test scores. The idea would be to tie at least half of a teacher’s evaluation to how much improvement students make on accountability tests.

It is good that progress is being made on revamping the teacher tenure system, but merit pay alone is not the answer. Students and teachers both need multiple measures of evaluation, and a great deal of work remains to be done on those standardized tests, to bring them up to par. There are plenty of ways to develop excellent supervision and assessment models for our schools and teachers without relying on merit pay. And let’s not lose sight of the goal of encouraging a love of learning and maintaining a climate of excitement in the classroom, the reasons most of us went into teaching in the first place.

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Mike K7 years ago

This opens the door for teachers to push students through, progress or not.

Margaret H.
Margaret H.7 years ago

Well I sure would like to see this occur. My 15 y/o in advanced HS classes has one teacher, who never teaches any other level except advanced. These kids would teach themselves, and apparently they had to last year. NY Living Environment regents class,he spent his entire class time editing YouTube videos of the sport he coaches after school. Yes, thats right he did not teach them one solid thing. Told to read the book, and answer the questions on Castle Learning website. The other teacher who also taught same caliber of kids, had not one child get less than 95 on the Regents exam, she did her job.His highest result was one kid who got an 85. He gets away with it,perhaps if exam scores are what dictates salaries, maybe he would teach or perhaps lose his job.

John T.
John T7 years ago

Now, I'm waiting to see if any body notices I spelled grammar incorrectly.......with a spell checker available!

John T.
John T7 years ago

There are 5 components to teaching. The Administration, the teacher, the student, and the parent and the text.
These bills, like any Ivory Tower, only address 1 part of the perceived problem, the teacher. For this the proponents promise magnificent results. If you don't get magnificent results, the teacher is, OBVIOUSLY, the weak link,
What's been lost is focus and continuity. FOCUS: Grades 1 through 6 used to be about the 3 Rs. A foundation for going forward.
CONTINUITY: Parents could help their children with the subjects. They were the same ones taught using the same terms the parents learned.
Not anymore. Traditional math has been lost because some guy wanted to sell the new "better" book. Kids are getting Geometry before they know what 12 X 12 equals. Focus is gone.
The Administration is at fault here.
English, as a subject, is gone. All you have to do is read some of the posts here or look at some of the emails you receive. You can judge the age of the sender due to the poor spelling/grammer/construction of their sentences. AND this is with a spell checker available!
I'm not going to address apathetic parents. They've always been around. If a student really wanted to learn, they could ask Johnny's mom to help them.
Note the word 'could'. Today, Johnny's mom is as lost as the rest of us.
The Administration 'scrapped' Continuity.
Before we start laying everything at the teacher's feet, we need to question the Administration.
THEY work fo

Michael G.
Michael G.7 years ago

How about merit pay for legislators? High stakes tests for legislators. Indeed, let me offer the Pepsi Challenge for all this education deform masking itself as progressive and data-based 'accountability': I'll publicly support any test whatsoever that legislators who vote for it must take themselves and allow their test scores to be published on-line and in local papers.

I suspect that when such policies become law, the willingness of members of state and federal legislative bodies to vote BLINDLY for these profit-making multiple-choice gold mines will shrink faster than a man's package in a cold shower. Anyone up for the Challenge?

Sheila L.
sheila l7 years ago

Aabsolutely NO, NO merit pay to any teacher, who came up with this? They need to do a better job in teaching our children first. They're too many slackers in the education dept.

gail d.
gail dair7 years ago

thanks for post

Diane B.
Diane B7 years ago

I just don't think there is any fair way to reward teachers with merit pay. There are way too many variables.

Donna M.
Donna M7 years ago

Merit pay for teachers is an equation that looks something like this:
teacher ability verifiable student results = administrative,
government and parental satisfaction

The problem here is that the equation isolates 'teacher ability' as the only variable, assuming that all students have equal desire and ability to learn and that all administrators, government officials and parents have the same noble desires and expectations. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I have been around teachers all my life. These are a few of the things I've noticed:

I know individuals who were only average students who went on to become scientists, authors, professionals, and even fantastic teachers;

I know teachers who are remembered 30 years later by their students as the best they ever had but who, by the end of their careers, had become ineffective, negative classroom influences, or objects of ridicule;

I know administrators and school board members to whom "responsibility to their community" means keeping school taxes low, not educating students;

I have known parents who think that lawsuits are the best way to address their child's shortcomings;

I know that almost any teacher can "teach to a test" and that almost any student can learn by rote memorization;

I know that my own superb education has taught me how much I do not know, but that what I do not know is less important than knowing where and how to learn all about anything I desire to know.

Dawn W.
Dawn W.7 years ago

As I wrap up a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program, I have to note the irony of having spent the last year studying research that shows that traditional testing is ineffective and unfair for many students, that performance assessment and differentiated assessment that require real-world applications of knowledge geared toward the students' strengths are the way to go ... and then, when I actually *teach*, I might well be rewarded for teaching students to do well on one-size-fits-all standardized tests that neither measure nor replicate anything resembling real-world applications of knowledge.

I agree that teachers should be rewarded based on their effectiveness in the classroom. I work for the government now, and indiscriminate pay raises (versus merit-based) are a problem throughout government institutions and a big reason for inefficiency and waste. However, I oppose merit-based pay for teachers based in any way on standardized tests. Unrelenting standardized tests are an unfortunate byproduct of the well-intended NCLB: They don't work, and they don't guarantee a quality education. They are a distraction of the worst kind, teaching kids to fill out bubble-forms rather than think. Encouraging teachers who train students to such unthinking single-mindedness is wrong and even dangerous to a nation that, more than ever, needs citizens who are capable of higher-level thinking.