the final word on why merit pay is bullshit


President Obama is on my television right now, reminding us all that he supports merit pay for public school teachers. He is very rarely a dumbass, but here he is a dumbass.

Merit pay is bullshit for a lot of reasons. Most of them have already been rehashed:

  • It penalizes teachers who are assigned students with bad parents or bad backgrounds

  • It establishes even more precedent for teaching to standardized tests rather than teaching critical thinking

  • It does nothing to address the fact that people who possess the skills that make for good teaching are avoiding the profession.

Yet I discovered another reason that merit pay is bullshit tonight: Student teaching.

Would anyone disagree that student teaching is an absolute necessity in the development of a strong teacher? Classroom skills in an age of unruly students raised by piece-of-shit parents are among the most valuable for a teacher, and are MUCH better learned under the tutelage of a professional teacher than “on the job.”

Yet what teacher would hand her/his classroom over to a student teacher if they knew their paycheck depended upon those students’ performance? Who would trust THEIR VERY INCOME to someone who HAS NO CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE? Teachers are already reluctant to take on student teachers, and establishing a merit pay system would eliminate student teaching opportunities entirely.

“Oh, they can do their student teaching of non-essential material,” you might respond. I laugh in your face. There is no such thing as non-essential material today. Everything depends on the standardized tests — and merit pay would simply increase this emphasis.


In fact, that may be the most enduring impact of the establishment of merit pay — a generation of teachers who never properly formulated their classroom skills, or a gross teacher shortage because underprepared teachers quit under the pressure or stress of a difficult first year.

Merit pay is bullshit. If you don’t understand why, you are a stupid person.


Of course merit pay is bullshit, as is almost everything Obama has done regarding education. Most of us teacher types see him as no different than Bush.

I am debating taking a student teacher in the fall partly due to standardized test pressure, but also due to the fact that I know I am better at teaching than my student teacher will be. Should I give her a chance? Maybe, but I owe the underprivileged kids in my classroom the BEST effort I can muster. Does one-on-one teaching time with my strugglers really balance out the multiple crappy or unfocused lessons my intern will no doubt perform -- even if she's decent?

If I knew my pay was going to be set by my standardized test scores, you'd bet I'd up the test prep work I give my kiddos. And then I'd probably get frustrated and quit. And you know I'm close enough to that already. :)

But to answer your rant re:ESTABLISHING MERIT PAY ENSURES A FUTURE GENERATION OF GROSSLY INEXPERIENCED NEW TEACHERS, I say add it to the list. The number 1 way to ensure a generation of grossly inexperienced new teachers has a giant head start on this merit-pay nonsense: University curriculum that stresses cutesy pie-in-the-sky, thematic teaching, ignores the multitude and severity of state standards, and doesn't address behavior management. If I ran the teacher-training world, I'd require at least 5 classes in behavior management. Because it doesn't matter if you're the best content teacher in the state, if you can't control your kids you've got nothing -- including merit pay.

We've made a comprehensive pro/con article on Debatepedia on merit pay that quotes from this article and about twenty other big ones. May be worth a look.

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    This page contains a single entry by tim published on April 29, 2009 8:45 PM.

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