Merit Pay Multiple Choice

By Jane Weinkrantz


What is it teachers have against merit pay? Is it:

        A- We feel it detracts from our selflessness. Most of us are really only doing this to get into Heaven and feel merit pay may spoil our chances for life in the Hereafter.

        B- We are not sure we will be able to earn it in the summer.

        C- Our hard-working colleagues will be parking Bentleys in the school lot while our dented Hyundais will expose us as the incompetents we really are.

        D- None of the above.

I hope you all picked “D.” Make sure you bubble the Scantron, carefully so you don’t lose points on your standardized test and cost me a couple of bucks.

    Now, pay attention: The reason teachers dislike merit pay is that it is insulting. Write it down, Bloomberg: insulting!

   Merit pay says to me: Mrs. Weinkrantz, you are not really doing your best every day because you are a professional who wants her students to do well, but I do think you are greedy enough to try your best if I throw you a bone. Look at me, Romney. Aren’t you trying to implement merit pay in Springfield , MA , so you can bring it up as a national issue? Didn’t one of your spokesmen just tell The Boston Globe “Governor Romney believes our best teachers should be paid more. It is very unfortunate that the unions are opposed to this important piece of real education reform.” Giuliani, you tried the same thing when you were mayor, but I notice you haven’t brought it up lately.

   Bloomberg,  I heard your last speech at the Urban League, the one in which you said, “ Many of you in this room work or have worked in the private sector. You know how to attract and retain the best people. Make them feel respected. And get the most out of them. You pay them more. You give them incentives to take on the toughest challenges and succeed. And you hold them accountable for results. And those who don’t perform up to standard – you let go. That’s Management 101, and it’s the way we treat all professionals – except in our schools.

    “In most school systems, teachers experience low pay, lockstep pay scales, no recognition of talent, no incentives for success and no accountability for failure. This kind of employment system didn’t work in the Soviet Union , and it’s time for us to recognize that it’s not working in our schools.”

    The problem with your answer, Bloomberg. is that this isn’t Management 101 . You may be able to tell someone who works manufacturing widgets that if production is up, they will get a raise. Your sales force can earn more money if they sell more widgets. But, to tell teachers that they must achieve certain results in order to earn a certain bonus is absurd. Kids, after all, aren’t widgets.  I have had years where everyone in my class passed the Regents with flying colors. And I have had years when students failed in spite of my best efforts. One year, it was a boy whose ADHD made it impossible for him to sit still long enough to take the test. Another year, it was a girl who ignored all my efforts to teach her , telling me constantly, “But I don’t think I’m a bad writer.” Hurray for self-esteem. She got a 44 on her English Regents. Then, there was the kid who didn’t really speak English. But, he was in 11th grade, so the state required him to take the English Regents.  What a farce it was to watch him try to write about Tennessee Williams’ “Street Name Carvel” in order to pass a standardized test he had no business taking. Under the circumstances, the fact that he got a 56 was impressive, and  I worked really hard to get him to that level. But do you think anyone will pay me extra for that 56? The idea that my paycheck should depend on a set of conditions set up by the state that are frequently ludicrous and sometimes tragic doesn’t motivate me; it angers me. It doesn’t empower me; in fact, it would make me feel powerless.

   And you, Obama, don’t think you’re getting out of this discussion. Pay attention. I know you think you’ve got the answer to the powerlessness problem. You just spoke at the  NEA convention and told them that you favor merit pay, stating, “If you excel at helping your students achieve success, your success will be valued and rewarded as well."  You said the plan would be designed "with teachers, not imposed on them, and not based on some arbitrary test score." Obama, you are the victim of a little too much cooperative learning. Do you really want my input on merit pay? Here goes: What is a more arbitrary word than “success?” I have had parents call me up to say that they don’t regard an 90 on a test as “success.”  If success is practicing standardized tests until students can do them in their sleep rather than teaching kids to think and take intellectual risks, then merit pay is a good idea. If my pay is linked to my students’ success, what do you want me to with the students who probably won’t be successful? I could encourage them to transfer or drop out so they won’t hurt my stats, right? . Obama, are you buying into the idea that if teachers think we have “ownership”, we’ll learn to like your bad ideas? Or are you trying to seem like a consensus-builder ? Usually, I expect that kind of approach from Hillary.

May I see your paper, Hillary?  I knew you would get this one right. No, Edwards that does not mean I favor the girls. Look, everyone. Hillary even added a little essay to her multiple choice question.  Obama, please don’t make faces and call her “Miss Perfect.” Thank you. She said, “Merit pay to individual teachers would discourage teachers from helping troubled students and would create a distorted competition among teachers. I don’t think that’s a very good way to inspire teachers. We want our best teachers to work with the kids who are the hardest to teach. If teachers are going to be told that the people who look better on a test are the ones who are going to get them rewarded in salary or compensation, why would anyone take on the kids who are harder to teach?”

What a good answer, Hillary. Maybe it will bring up that miserable grade you got when we studied Iraq .  You have excellent critical thinking skills which, I just bet, were not developed prepping for standardized tests five days a week so your teacher could get an extra check and buy a new loveseat. Good job!

I’m still waiting to hear from the rest of you.

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