This response by J.M. Tumbleson to a Diane Ravitch blog post resonated with me. Ravitch wrote recently about a rather chilling experience with a CNN interview. Here is what JMT had to say about an interview question that was based on the belief that teachers are desirous of, in favor of, and actively seeking merit pay or pay for performance plans.
“I work in a city with significant amounts of poverty. I see teachers who work hard, who think hard and who try to collaborate with others in order to constantly improve their practice. Never have I heard any teacher argue for merit pay. They will argue for more planning time, they might argue for more services for their students with various social, emotional or cognitive needs, they might argue for more money for special classroom projects, they might even argue for a longer lunch, but never once have I heard a teacher argue for merit pay. The hundreds of teachers I have known want to work collaboratively and see themselves as having a shared mission in which they play an essential role for the community and for the children. The interviewer has been fed disinformation on what most teachers want, most likely from sources that will monetarily profit from the destruction of the public schools.” August 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm
This is my experience as well. I have spent thousands of hours with hundreds of teachers and other educators, and they never bring up the subject of merit pay. What they want is support, supplies, understanding, and appreciation. They want respect from kids, parents, the wider school community, and the public. They want time to prepare and time to teach; freedom from unfair demands and masses of paperwork; a moratorium on new initiatives; and a realistic and respectful testing program that provides all the right information in a timely and useful manner so that they can improve teaching and learning in meaningful ways. They want to have confidence that our high-stakes tests are actually and thoroughly aligned with their instruction. [This is not true for the current state tests here--they are the ultimate mysterious black box. Teachers have no idea what's on the test; what gets a lot of attention; what to stress during instruction. The instruction is standards-based. The test is standards-based, but with over 100 standards for ELA, do the two align?]
Teachers know what they need to do a good job. If, by chance, there happens to be an opportunity during this school year for educators to actually tell the folks in charge what it is they need–in detail–perhaps in a survey– I sure hope that they would do so in an honest and productive way. Just saying.
As for merit pay? It is generally not a topic of conversation unless someone else brings it. The $10,000 retention bonus for some teachers last spring resulted in some conversation. The upcoming attraction bonus program–about which little is known–will lead to more discussion, but not too much debate.
Teachers want a decent salary, especially for new teachers. They want to get to the upper salary levels in less time–a compacting of the base salary scale. They want career advancement with opportunities for additional responsibilities, greater status, challenge, and increased pay based on their level of commitment–JUST LIKE IN LOTS OF OTHER CAREERS. Heck, even the kid at McDonald’s wants a promotion. Except, not all teachers want to advance their behinds right out of teaching. Right now, advancement means stepping out of teaching and moving into administration. Good for some, and more power to them. For others, like me, teaching was my lifelong career choice. Career ladders would be a grand addition to the picture.