Merit Pay for Everybody! Um...

Foyne Mahaffey, a teacher and blogger for ShorewoodNow, speaks out against the concept of merit pay for teachers by sarcastically writing in favor of it for everyone.

Generally I enjoy reading Mahaffey, even though I may not always agree with her. But this post is so ludicrous in its inability to appropriately compare teaching with other professions it forces me to question just how out of touch she is with the rest of the professional world.

Merit pay ought to be a consideration for all professions. Wages gauged by how well the people around you do. Supervisors will get paid according to the advancements of the supervised.

Um...well, in my twenty-plus years of working in the private sector, this has pretty much been exactly how people's pay is determined. Supervisors are judged and paid not only on their own individual performance, but also on how well those they supervise perform. And team performance is often gauged by individual contributions to the team, so if the team isn't doing well, it's a reflection on the individual, and ultimately how he or she is rewarded financially.

Parents will receive tax refunds based on how well their children do. "Well" meaning they get good grades in reading, writing, math. Your kid gets in trouble at school. Oops. Sorry, but that will be a deduction. Susie and Harold skipped a grade? Hold out your hands. We like that. Here’s more money.

Um...this is just silly. First off, parenting isn't a "paid" profession (unless your last name is Spears or Lohan). And tax refunds certainly aren't "pay," it's a refund of money taken by the government. But there is a reward in parenting, and that's found in successfully raising a child you can be proud of. If you've raised a child who does well in school, doesn't get in trouble, respects their parents and teachers and is generally a good kid all around, I'd say this is pretty strong for your merit as a parent.

Hey Doctors! Let’s set up a merit pay plan for you.

Um...good doctors are rewarded with higher pay, booming practices, jobs at prestigious hospitals and patient referrals. Bad doctors are sued and lose their licenses (hopefully).

Let’s have merit pay for politicians too. Why not take what they think is so good and replicate it? It shouldn’t be that hard to make judgments on our elected officials. Measures are already standard. Is the stock market up, yes or no? By a lot? Not enough? Are people earning a living wage? If not, get a cardboard box and a dolly. Are interest rates reasonable? What about home mortgages? Do we owe any other nations money?

Um...aside from all the things she uses to measure political success, as if the free market and personal choices have nothing to do with it, this may be the most precise comparison she makes. After all, public school teachers and elected officials are basically public-employee brethren, aren't they? But what Mahaffey loses sight of is that while elected officials may not get a yearly raise based on performance, they are subjected to regular reviews by the electorate. This isn't a situation where a public employee gets a raise based on performance; it's one where they get to keep their job! And from some of the things I've read, it's far easier to get rid of a politician based on lack of merit than it is a teacher.

Now Mahaffey does begin her post by outlining how a teacher's merit is judged (again, sarcastically), and I would agree the process she shares is not without its faults. But while she succeeds in pointing out the downside of how merit is measured, she fails to indicate why it shouldn't be measured.

Unless you count her poor examples, which do nothing more than show just how out of touch she is.


fantesticle said...

There already is MERIT pay in education - it is determined usually by the principal and it involves either 'extra pay', assigning other responsibilities, or creating 'release time' to work on other projects. Principals often 'stipend' teachers who are willing to do more work, clubs, coaching, etc. Plus, if teachers earn more credits (masters, PHD, etc., they get more money).

I am in favor of merit pay, I suppose, but not in the corporate sense. When will people understand that education is an entirely different can of worms? It, for the most part, is a cooperative endeavor – we want to AVOID the notion of ‘My students have high test scores - BUT, there is only so much money so I’m not going to share my secrets with Mr. Jones lest he get my raise.” This is BAD.

And, how are you going to reward teachers who teach difficult populations – populations who will NEVER PASS THE STANDARDIZED TESTS NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, public, private, secular, religious. We can’t reward them based on feelings, can we?
Again, I am in favor of merit pay in the sense that teachers who are qualified and dedicated should get more money but we need to A – increase starting salary to attract these types out of college B – raise salaries across the board (keep reading) C – increase teaching responsibilities while cutting the fat to help pay for this – guidance counselors, assistant principals – a well run school does not need many (if any) D – stop denigrating the profession (like that will happen) E – hold the PRINCIPAL accountable for who they hire and who they fire F- make some reforms in the UNION in this regard – which does not say get rid of the union – that’s crazy – but power should be restored to the person or group in-charge G – jeepers crap understand that if we are going to do anything in this country FIRST it should be to invest HEAVILY in education – if I am a liberal for any reason, I guess it’s this one – if families are not raising their kids properly, we must stop sublimating – the kids do not deserve to repeat that cycle – and it is a cycle.

FINALLY – it is not next-to-impossible to FIRE a teacher – THIS IS A MYTH – it takes the usual work that it takes anywhere – you most offer support, you must document, you must WORK with the person – unless, of course, there is an extreme violation. Otherwise, if all ducks are in a row and the person is not working out, they can be fired. It’s the principal’s job to do this job and many of them do not do it because they buy into the same crap as most people – it’s too hard. Which I guess is my last point, a school is a good as its leader – the staff does the work but the principal is responsibly for creating / fostering / enforcing the school’s culture.

David Casper said...

First off, Fan, I didn't think you still cared! I mean, seriously, I just posted this and you already wrote up this long, wonderful comment? Don't you have a class you should be teaching, or something?

I think you and I agree entirely on this merit pay issue. In fact, I even agreed with Mahaffey that the example she cited as to how merit was measured probably isn't the best method. I think your suggestions certainly have their...er...merit.

And I'm not saying that merit should be measured in the same way it is in a corporation or in the private sector. But what I took away from her post was that she seemed to believe merit pay doesn't exist elsewhere and the concept was somehow pulled out of thin air just for teachers. If she wants to argue against the merits of merit pay, she's going to have to find a better argument than "nobody else has to deal with it," because that simply isn't true.

As for firing a teacher, I'll admit I cited one of the most heinous examples of not being able to do so because, well, I just like to sensationalize things. Although I do think it was a fair point to make in countering her comparison between teachers and politicians, the latter of which can lose their jobs at the drop of a hat any given Tuesday. Trust me, it's pretty difficult to fire someone in the private sector for performance issues unless you document everything as well, so I guess that elected officials have the most tenuous hold on their jobs out of any of us.

Finally, and on a more personal note, I got a new couch, but am still not allowed to get PS3.

Anonymous said...

Fan -

Here is the really cool thing about a private business. A few months ago, a co-worker who was slacking big time, and didn't do his job was pulled into the bosses office, and politely told to clean out his desk and leave. He no longer had a job at xyz company.

In MPS the principal has to wait until the end of the school year, and then says you no longer work for my department (school) - go work in someone else's department (school)

And, how are you going to reward teachers who teach difficult populations – populations who will NEVER PASS THE STANDARDIZED TESTS NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO

You don't base any merit raise comparing their students tests to the state average test. You do it based on same school previous year(s) tests. That way the teachers at the schools for gifted students have the same basis for merit at the teachers who work in the problem areas.

fantesticle said...

Please, don't call me Fan - I'm a teacher. I go by my last name.

Clint- A - don't most bosses have to document an unsatisfactory performance before they can fire? I mean, I suppose a person can just get fired without no ifs ands or buts, BUT - don't they risk a potential lawsuit? - I speak of the jobs that matter, of course, not Kinkos.

B - I think the notion that 'teachers don't get fired' is exaggerated - there are other factors, like shortages, for example, that contribute to not-so-good teachers in the classroom. I concede that the union will back up unsatisfactory performance, but that is there job. You would want them there, too, if you were falsely accused, for instance - which happens in the teaching profession (you against the child - no other adult around to see). I still put the onus on the administration in the building. Principals have a job, too. They need to put forward a compelling case as to why this teacher is underperforming. Hard, admittedly, but just. They have more power than most people think. Plus, it must be a cooperative environment and more pay across the board wouldn't hurt either blah blah blah - just try to ease off the notion that teachers are impervious cogs in the bureaucratic machine… see Sykes, Belling et.al.

fantesticle said...

Oh, yeah, Dave (Can I call you Dave?)

I want to see your couch.

And, I have son - Montgomery - future corporate mogul.

Anonymous said...

Yes Fantesticle my boss still has to document lack of achievement. Two maybe three such documents prevents a frivolous lawsuit. And I work for a high end IT company, not Kinkos or McDonalds

Wisconsin is an "at will" state for all non-contract positions. That means that anyone without a contract can be fired at the drop of a hat.

I have seen the union contracts and newsletters for MTEA. They don't care why a teacher is being dismissed as much as they care about whether the procedure has been followed. It isn't based on Merit as much as procedure. They have said so and that is backwards.

Yes Admins have some power and authority that they don't use. But if everytime you tried to use it, you were taken to the wood shed by unions purposefully protecting people who should be working at Kinko's, you would find easier ways (like reassignment).

I don't know what district you teach in, but how can you ask for more pay???

MPS - 8yrs exp, BA + 16, No extra cirrucular activities = cost to MPS of $71,000 and still have off 13 weeks per year. The poverty. The poverty

David Casper said...

My apologies...henceforth, it shall be Mr. Testicle.

And congrats!

Clint...he's in MPS (sorry for answering for you, Mr. T). I only say this because, Clint, I believe that's where your wife is as well. So, the debate between you two is interesting!

fantesticle said...

First, shouldn't you two high-powered professionals be working? I would never have enough time during my day to do this if I weren't at home with my newborn. Of course, I am low-powered.

I have been teaching for 8 years. I have 16+ credits. I EARN $43,000 a year (before taxes) - the benefits cost about $26,000….so you’re right. I agree, the pay is NOT bad, but it manifests itself in healthcare and pensions - not an entirely healthy formula to compete with high-powered corporate America (feel like sharing with us your total expense to your Fortune 8million company?) and I am putting an argument forward that if you want to attract qualified resources, you have to pay them MV (a term people in high-powered positions use). Let’s not what I said earlier about cooperation and education, dadadada, now.

My wife, a nurse, takes homes close to double what I do. Do we value healthcare more than education? Are we, dare I say, a self-centered, me-driven society? Oh, the humanity!

By the way, I did not mean to imply that you worked at Kinko's, although it did come across that way. So, settle down. I knew you were high-powered from your blogging picture.

I just heard Bill Maher refer to blogging as a group of pompous blowhards getting off in a huge circle-jerk of pomposity. With that, I gotta go.

David Casper said...

Mr. T, you know how powerful I am and what I am capable of, not to mention my bionic liver.

And your wife makes twice what you do and you're taking off to stay home with the baby?


(Read, "I'm jealous)

Anonymous said...

I work for less than market take home pay but more than market gross pay. I get stock options in a private company which makes up for the difference.

If you want the cash now instead of later, you are in the right profession. The School Board is paying 13% into your pension plan. Name another company that pays that into a pension/401k plan...

Personally I would like to see HC abolished from the pay plan so that we get the cash and I can spend it on the plan that best fits my family. (We would be +$16,000/year) But we can't do that. Instead, we have the most expensive plan available to pay for the 5% that use the HC the most.

Finally I can do this in the middle of the day because I have four monitors on my work PC, and I need something to do while the DB is working.