The dispute surrounding merit pay for teachers has existed for decades in many countries across the globe. The debate has been particularly heated in the United States. Since the 1920s, public schools began awarding pay mostly according to title, and seniority rather than merit. Numerous attempts have been made to introduce merit pay systems throughout this period, but it never gained widespread popularity on a national level. Now, however, political leaders such as Barack Obama have supported merit pay for teachers. This has reinvigorated the debate, with many groups falling on either side. The National Education Association, for example, has opposed merit pay, while the United Federation of Teachers supports the idea. The modern day merit pay, or pay-for performance programs offers teacher monetary bonuses for student achievement on yearly standardized test scores.
Merit pay conflicts with the way we are to teach in today’s schools, and cannot be fully effective. This form of motivation, for teachers, will be impossible to be evenhanded, and the broad term of “merit” does little for the long term success of the students. No “good” teacher is in it for the money, anyway. This newly rediscovered answer, to public education, could set back and delay the entire system.
Many advocates agree that merit pay systems typically have been one of the most valuable tools of motivating employees to perform to the best of their ability. It is recognition for the employees who achieve the highest productivity and results for the business or organization. A monetary reward in terms of a higher pay is the strongest incentive for an employee who is working with a greater enthusiasm, commitment and proficiency than the rest of his/her workforce. Even so, the supporters may a valid point; teaching is not like another other profession, and is impossible to compare the motivational tools used. A 2007 national survey of teachers by the nonprofits Public Agenda and the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality found that, if given an option between two otherwise identical schools, 76% of secondary teachers and 81% of elementary teachers would rather be at a school where administrators supported teachers strongly than at a school that salaried significantly higher salaries (Toch, 2009, p. 99).
One of the main issues with merit pay for teachers is found in the manner in which it is measured. Most of the new performances pay laws and union contracts measure “effectiveness,” at least in part, by looking at the students’ test scores from one year to the next. One test score cannot paint a full picture of a student's accomplishment. Teachers unions have historically opposed merit pay, arguing that test scores are not an accurate measure of student achievement (Turner, 2010, para 15). Most teachers will report that a test will only show part of the picture. Standardized tests do not reflect life lessons, effective citizen traits, or character...