The issue of rewarding employees who perform to exceptional standards at their work is nothing new. Everyone hears about the bonuses dolled out to corporate executives and captains of industry for saving or making their corporations money with new, and innovative ideas. It was almost inevitable that someone thought about applying such an idea to the education system.
This is not a new argument. It has been around for over forty years and it has been proven time and again that merit pay does not work, for a number of reasons. Yet B.C. Liberal candidate Kevin Falcon has decided to again beat this dead horse as he seeks to win his party's nomination.
Falcon stated that, "Every parent and student knows who the exceptional, innovative educators are," he said in a statement. "Government needs to recognize and reward those teachers, and encourage them to share their expertise and methods with their peers."
It has been reported that Falcon favors the development of an incentive program for master teachers similar to something that has been developed by the new Labour Government in Australia. Falcon has also said that the criteria for determining who is classed as a 'master teacher' would be dependent upon peer evaluations, test results, extra-curricular activities and other suggestions that may arise.
No doubt the test results from standardized government tests will play the largest role in determining who is and isn't in line for incentive rewards. Tying such incentives to standardized testing is wrong for so many reasons and is ultimately the reason why merit based pay schemes have failed wherever they have been implemented.
Such schemes are invariably counter-productive. Merit based pay doesn't help education, it hinders it.
Designing and effectively monitoring such a program would invariably be a bureaucratic nightmare. Kiss a few more support staff or teaching jobs goodbye in trying to administer it. Students would be the one's suffering through cuts to classrooms to administer such a program.
Cooperation and collaboration between teachers would be stifled, not encouraged by a merit based pay system. Why would I want to share a great lesson idea with someone if I was going to be the one who would lose out in the end. Collaboration and cooperation is essential to good teaching and learning. Merit based pay removes the incentive to engage in this.
How do you accurately assess success? Invariably it would be done through tangible, statistical data provided by standardized testing which, as many educators know is invariably detrimental to student performance. The socio-economic conditions in which students live also plays a huge role in their ability to perform in schools. A merit based pay system invariably rewards those who teach in a better socio-economic area and may bring about dishonesty and corruption in the system.
And the idea of rewarding those who take on extra-curricular activities. Are you going to say that one teacher should receive additional pay because he stays behind to coach the basketball team while another goes home to be with his children, take them to community sports programs and other activities? Both, in my eyes, have equal value.
No, merit based pay is not the answer for our education system. It is a corporate idea that non-educators are trying to apply to an education system in trouble due to cutbacks and funding shortfalls. If you are indeed acknowledging that teachers are underpaid, and that the system is indeed flawed, put money into the system and pay all teachers what they are worth.
For more on this issue please also have a look at Joe Bower's thoughts on the idea of merit pay.