President Obama’s education agenda, which turns out to be George W. Bush’s program squared, has a particular feature that could have an unfortunate impact on teachers — merit pay.
Whenever I think about teacher merit pay I’m reminded of a situation that occurred when I taught seventh grade. Our school’s scarce audio-visual equipment was “stored” in the classroom of the principal’s favorite teacher. The practical consequence was that this teacher, we’ll call him George, had first claim on it— a privilege he routinely abused.
How did George become the principal’s favorite? It wasn’t that he was the most skillful teacher. He actually bored the kids half to death. His talent was boot licking. The man stroked the principal’s ego like Paganini bowed a violin. And since he taught nothing of consequence nor dared anything different, he never made waves. The principal loved him for that too. This is how George got the AV equipment, as well as choice assignments; and this is what would have won him merit pay if such a thing had then existed.
Yes, teacher merit pay could easily turn into bonuses for brown-nosers. And even if standardized test scores become the soul criteria, favoritism could still play a role in who gets the money. That’s because the principal’s favorites often end up with the easiest classes and particularly difficult kids are quickly reassigned to some less favored soul.
One doesn’t even have to be the principal’s favorite to gain such advantages. Sometimes being a secretary’s favorite will do. I personally know of a school secretary who annually let her favorite pick the kids she wanted in her class because the secretary was her friend and neighbor. The other same grade level teachers got, as one of them dejectedly put it, “the dregs.”
Will favoritism result in unfair competition for merit pay? It’s a good bet.
To examine these and similar issues further, see articles at www.newfoundations.com