I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.


…of my merit-based pay for teachers post (“merit-based pay” hereafter abbreviated as MBP because I’m tired of typing it):


I wouldn’t mind if some of the best teachers were paid a bit more. And some other teachers would probably work a little bit harder or become discouraged more slowly if there were a bit of a financial incentive. And I don’t really know that seniority and years of education is the best way to incentivize excellence. But what fair metric can you use to measure who the best teachers are? […] I’m all for merit pay—but only if somebody smarter than I am can come up with a good way to measure merit.

I think this is a bit like arguing that communism should work if we could only think of a good way to get around those nasty little problems that crop up in reality.

I don’t see how any pro-MBP argument can be valid without supplying a corresponding valid performance metric. And I don’t think anyone has figured one out yet.

Mike Hudack:

I’m sorry Marco, but there are bad teachers out there. There are also amazing teachers. We need a way to distinguish. […] My aunt is a teacher. She’s spent her entire 30+ year career teaching in shitty inner city schools. She will readily tell you that while the students’ home lives and neighborhoods cause problems that the real problem is the school system, the teachers and the administrators.

Don’t twist the argument — I’m not saying that the school systems are perfect or that there aren’t bad teachers. They’re incredibly dysfunctional and have tons of problems that I’d be happy to elaborate on in separate posts.

But these problems won’t magically go away if we start paying some teachers more money (and correspondingly decrease the pay of others?).

Mike continues:

Nearly every other profession in America carries risks and rewards associated with performance. Teaching is one of the very few remaining that does not. It is time for that to change.

Not every profession has easily measured performance. Mine sure doesn’t.

Teaching in a public school is a government job. The government is the largest employer in the country, and very few government agencies have merit-based pay (I actually don’t know of any, but I’m assuming that there probably are some). Government pay scales are public and standardized.

Jack, by email:

Your post about merit pay is riddled with horribly offensive categorizations of urban students. Yes, poverty does bring many challenges, but to say that a majority of students who struggle in school fit into the categories you describe is entirely inappropriate and misguided. […] If the families I work with were to read your post, they would be quite upset and offended. To say that they “don’t care” couldn’t be further from the truth. Your upbringing has significantly hampered your perspective on this issue.

Come on.

  1. I never said these were all urban students. I actually have no experience with or knowledge of inner-city schools — only poor suburbs.
  2. I never said that the majority of students who struggle in schools fit my list of horrible family environments.

Here’s what I said:

But here are some of the many reasons why many of our country’s children, especially the poor, aren’t learning well enough or aren’t graduating:

Any family that would take offense to my post is a family that it most likely doesn’t describe. And it’s incredibly presumptuous of you to make assumptions about my upbringing.

One final note. If anyone would like to argue the benefits of MBP, especially regarding any particular metric that should be used to determine salary:

  1. Where does the money come from?
  2. Is this only a system of bonuses, or do the “bad” teachers’ salaries decrease?
  3. If “bad” decreases are used to fund the increases, what happens when many bad teachers are forced to quit and there aren’t enough left to offset the cost of the bonuses? Isn’t that the goal?
  4. Would the bonus money be better spent restoring some missing positions that have been cut in many districts, such as physical education, art, music, and theatre?

I think mrc summed it up best:

God, public education is so fucked, I don’t even know where to begin.