President Barack Obama has proposed – and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo are backing – a plan that pays bonuses of $20,000 each to exemplary teachers of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM instruction).
However, in Bloomberg’s plan, the bonuses would go to teachers at low performing schools who have shown improvement over two years. He points to a new study released on Monday showing attrition of high-performing teachers at New York City public schools.
The study recommends teacher merit pay as a possible means for retaining the best and the brightest teachers.
For Obama’s part, merit-pay is a first step towards improving the U.S.’s standing in the STEM fields. For Bloomberg’s part, it reinforces his belief that merit-based pay for teachers (versus lockstep pay regardless of performance) is a motivating factor in work performance.
However, the United Federation of Teachers is against this plan. They feel performance-based pay has no place in a public school system.
In fact, Mulgrew, UFT President, called the plan ineffective and “disgusting.”
Inneffective and disgusting? Few would argue that teaching – particularly in urban settings – has long been considered a missionary profession. And who in their right minds would fight against a plan that would financially reward a good teacher, while also prepare students to compete globally in the STEM fields?
Perhaps, it is because educators find that merit-based pay fosters competition instead of collegiality. But is competition such a bad idea when student education is at such great stake?
One East New York principal, who prefers not be named, says competition spurred by financial incentives does not work in an urban school setting. He says public schools should not be treated as corporations where competition, versus a culture of collectivity, is encouraged-- particularly when so many factors outside of a teacher’s control guide student performance.
“It’s nice to distinguish teachers who are going above and beyond, but it’s not the entire solution; one changing variable is not going to solve the problem,” he said. “More money is not going to miraculously make a bad teacher a good teacher and poor student performance does not necessarily indicate the teacher did a poor job.”
In fact, in February 2012, more than 1,000 UFT delegates voted to adopt a resolution which noted that “studies conducted by prominent researchers and renowned education experts show that individual merit pay plans have not helped to significantly improve student achievement in any of the United States school districts where they have been implemented.”
Take the latest experiment by The Equity Project-- a charter school in New York City that is publicly funded but privately run. Beginning in 2008, the bold project paid its teachers $125,000 a year plus bonuses- more than double the national average – as an incentive to attract the best and brightest teachers.
However, after only two years from its start, and despite the stellar recruitment and fatter paychecks, the test scores of the school’s students bombed, with a 31 percent pass rate-- some of the worst in the city.
So, now what? Did the project simply need more time?
Mulgrew says the message is clear: “Individual merit pay hasn’t worked and doesn’t work for schools and kids.”
What do you think? Will more money award and attract better teachers? Is it, at the very least, an initial first step towards showing them they are appreciated and valued? Or is it an ill-guided attempt at fostering competition and a waste of tax payers dollars?
Take our poll, and tell us what you think in the comments.