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Week of 5.1.09

Issue Clash: Merit Pay

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association and Gary Ritter, associate professor of Education and Public Policy and holder of the Endowed Chair in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas, debate the issue of teacher merit pay as an effective approach for reforming the education system.

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Is "merit pay" a fair way to assess teacher competency?

Click a name at left to read that person's answer to the above question in this area.

Gary Ritter: Merit pay is attractive to policymakers precisely because of the unfairness embedded in current teacher compensation policies, which pay teachers simply for time served and degrees earned rather than for their ability to foster student learning. The problem is that there is little evidence that these factors make for better teachers. Alternatively, merit pay represents a promising strategy for rewarding and encouraging teacher effectiveness. As a discipline, we do have reasonably good tools to assess the "merit" of a teacher; we should use these tools. While it may not be perfectly fair, a pay system based on merit is certainly more equitable than the status quo, which discourages talented teachers and shortchanges students.

Dennis Van Roekel: The first question you must ask is what is meant by "merit pay?" If it means paying for test scores, then NEA does not support it. NEA does support creative alternatives and enhancements that build on a strong salary schedule with a $40,000 base salary. The key question for any compensation system is whether it is designed to improve teaching and learning or advance short-term political goals.


Click a name at left to read that person's rebuttal to his/her opponent's answer above in this area.

Gary Ritter's Rebuttal: In each state across the nation, educators and policymakers have gotten together to develop learning standards for students. Testing experts have joined in to develop standardized assessments aligned to these standards so that educators, policymakers, and parents can gauge student progress. Student performance on these assessments serves as an excellent indicator of student learning; student gains on these assessments provide a good measure of the teacher's contribution to student learning. Thus, merit pay would most certainly mean providing rewards for teachers who are effective at fostering improvements on these exams. In this way, a merit-based compensation system is designed to encourage and reward good teaching—just as the NEA suggests. Indeed, it remains puzzling to me that the NEA continues to support the unjust uniform pay scale and oppose the common-sense idea that the best teachers be rewarded for doing a great job.

Dennis Van Roekel's Rebuttal: Research consistently shows that knowledge and experience are the key factors that determine teacher quality. Teaching is a professional practice; it requires great diagnostic and delivery skills, and ongoing professional development, to promote learning in every student. As such, NEA supports additional pay for teachers who gain additional skills or take on new responsibilities, such as gaining National Board Certification, engaging in high-quality professional learning, and mentoring new teachers. These things actually DO improve a teachers' practice, which in turn, drives student achievement. Above all, teacher pay systems should be developed collaboratively by teachers and administrators.

What effect does a merit pay system have on the full school faculty, especially on those un-rewarded?

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Gary Ritter: Critics of merit pay are often concerned that such plans cannot adequately incorporate teachers of "non-core" subjects. The most effective merit pay plans ensure that all teachers are eligible for rewards so as to organize the entire faculty around the school's ultimate objective of enhancing student learning. There are a variety of ways to assess the "merit" of teachers of subjects such as technology and art; one reasonable approach is to give these teachers credit for school-wide learning gains. Other faculty may go "un-rewarded" because their students do not show learning gains. At the end of the day, these teachers will either improve their performance or choose to pursue another profession. Either outcome will benefit the students.

Dennis Van Roekel: We must focus on improving the practice of the profession of teaching and create pay systems designed to do so by linking them to quality professional development. Merit pay systems force teachers to compete, rather than cooperate. They create a disincentive for teachers to share information and teaching techniques. This is especially true because there is always a limited pool of money for merit pay.

It may also result in a decrease in the number of teachers who volunteer to teach basic or remedial subjects as those teachers opt to teach more rigorous courses with students who have already demonstrated excellence in a particular subject area. For example, I taught high school math. With merit pay there would be no incentive for me to teach Basic Math, but every incentive to teach Calculus. I'm a pretty good math teacher and I know I could help the kids in Basic Math, but I also know that there is a greater chance that my Calculus students will score higher on a standardized test.

Systems that tie a teacher's salary to how well students perform on standardized tests are not in the best interest of students. The motives may be good, but in reality, it doesn't improve student performance. But we know what does work: smaller class sizes, highly qualified and certified teachers, up to date textbooks, and technology. These are the types of improvements we should be making.


Click a name at left to read that person's rebuttal to his/her opponent's answer above in this area.

Gary Ritter's Rebuttal: The NEA is correct to point out the obvious: it is possible to devise "bad" merit pay schemes. However, the NEA is absolutely wrong to assert that all merit pay programs are designed this way. Indeed, there are numerous good programs across the country, and Mr. Van Roekel must realize this. In good merit pay programs, often designed by educators, teachers do not compete against each other but instead are measured against their own improvement goals. Our Arkansas programs are designed this way. All teachers who meet their objectives can earn the maximum reward. In fact, teachers in our merit pay schools are rewarded for the improvement in their own classrooms and for the gains of students throughout the school. Thus, teacher bonuses are enhanced—not limited—by the good work of their peers throughout the school. Mr. Van Roekel also wrongly claims that he would be incentivized by merit pay to teach calculus. When merit is based on learning gains, teachers of all students can earn rewards, as long as they nurture student improvement. Indeed, Mr. Van Roekel might prefer to teach basic-level students in our merit system since these students have the most room for growth. An example of a merit pay plan, developed by educators, that highlights the flaws in the NEA argument, is posted here. [pdf]

Dennis Van Roekel's Rebuttal: All teachers, as well as other school professionals, should have the opportunity to grow and learn professionally. If their "worth" is determined by the results of others, they are denied the opportunity for professional learning. So-called merit pay systems force teachers to compete, rather than cooperate, thereby creating a disincentive for teachers to share information and teaching techniques. NEA is confident that as we pursue professional pay, we can promote effective pay practices and avoid those practices that appear to be politically motivated but do nothing to enhance the work life of all members and the learning of all students.

What's the best way to improve our country's public schools?

Click a name at left to read that person's answer to the above question in this area.

Gary Ritter: The research on elementary and secondary education points to one factor as absolutely critical to student learning: the quality of the classroom teacher. We also know that teachers, like other professionals, respond to incentives. As a result, we should design compensation policies to attract and retain the best teachers by directing our resources toward these effective teachers and away from their ineffective peers. Merit pay is one such policy. This policy is even more appealing because it can improve student learning by encouraging teachers to pay closer attention to student achievement data.

Dennis Van Roekel: NEA has created an initiative to transform America's public schools by 2020. This initiative is designed to help enhance the capacities and success of the current K-12 system, build on the strengths of the system, and serve as a catalyst for the expansion of local programs and practices that work. The initiative seeks to inspire the American "can do" spirit and put it to work in a collaborative effort to make sure that every student in America attends great public schools by 2020. The Transforming America's Public Schools Initiative asks Congress and the administration to address six priorities that focus on the needs of every student, especially low-income minorities and other student populations that need additional attention, including:

• Support the profession of teaching.
• Implement a federal guarantee to sustain funding of Title I and IDEA.
• Protect and achieve students' access to educational services and supports.
• Support state-based public school transformation.
• Establish high-quality educational research and development.
• Support innovation and best practices to accelerate state improvement efforts and improve student learning.


Click a name at left to read that person's rebuttal to his/her opponent's answer above in this area.

Gary Ritter's Rebuttal: First, the NEA would like us to support the profession of teaching. As President Obama argued last month, treating teachers like professionals means that "good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement." If Obama is correct, the NEA could support the profession by supporting merit pay. Additionally, the NEA makes a priority of protecting student access to educational services. In fact, the antiquated uniform salary structure supported by the NEA is one of the biggest reasons that poor and minority students do not have access to the same high quality teachers that their middle class peers do. Perhaps the NEA should aim to protect students by actively advocating for differentiated teacher pay. Finally, the NEA claims to prioritize high quality research and best practices. In that light, the NEA should consider a 2008 research review published in the non-partisan Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. In this study, the authors conclude that merit pay plans are effective at improving student achievement. Paying attention to evidence would be a great start for us to improve our schools!

Dennis Van Roekel's Rebuttal: Every student deserves a great public school and a great public school is one that is staffed with the best and brightest of our nation—those who choose teaching as a profession and commit to a career shaping the leaders of tomorrow. For policy makers, this must first begin with a commitment to paying teachers a professional salary from the moment they walk into a classroom, one that is comparable to other professions that require a similarly complex skill set. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in its recent report, The Teaching Penalty, teachers' weekly salaries are 15% lower than comparable occupations. NEA is calling for a starting salary of no less than $40,000 to ensure that top college students are drawn to teaching. Then, we must retain teachers by supporting them as they grow professionally through effective mentoring programs, providing targeted professional growth and learning opportunities, and ensuring that their compensation keeps pace with other professionals.

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Viewer Comments

Pay is only one tip of the iceberg. The social-economic environment of each school, the conflicts of interests and the Nepotism and corruption in the districts are the other heads of the monster. If these issues are satisfactorily salved, then we can talk about compensation. In any case, it should be created a hybrid solution where a real, fair and professional level pay is provided since the very first day of teaching and Merit-Team-Performance-Incentives applied to the entire school.

Commenter: Mytu Sense
Merit pay turns otherwise sane people into vipers. See for full article.

Commenter: shawn
When education and curriculum businesses compete for state and federal money, they market tests to our legislators and state superintendents of instruction They sell expensive standardized tests that are paid for with taxpayer dollars. Standardized tests are branded like any other product being sold in our market economy.

How do standardized tests measure individuals? We are from a diverse population that is far from standard.

Every state buys tests because of inadequately funded law; NCLB. I am unaware of any state that has created meaningful individualized tests for each student. They are all purchased with tax dollars.

Our state tests take 8 days out of my child's learning opportunities.
The anxiety of "am I good enough" makes kids sick to their stomaches.

When someone shows me a test that will measure whether or not my child has the mastered the skills to be a happy and contributing member of society, I will consider the issue of merit pay more seriously.

Today, we spend millions of dollars on tests, materials that teach to the test, teachers to implement tests, trained assessment specialists to assess the tests, teacher dollars to re-teach (train?) anyone who may fail a section of the test, energy defending or proposing tests....
What are we trying to really accomplish?

Gee, I wish our community school had the testing money they spent this year. We could have bought classroom technology that truly would make American graduates more competitive.

Commenter: Scott Miller
Some of the comments by individuals claiming to be teachers are so riddled with grammatical mistakes and demonstrably false statements that it's hard to comprehend how they became teachers at all. "How take test." is not a valid English sentence. Multiplication and division have the same priority in order of operations and can be interchanged (i.e. 5 times 6 divided by 7 is equal to 5 divided by 7, then multiplied by 6). This makes the whining about accountability unbearable to anyone outside the NEA.

Teachers: understand that if you cannot even convince NOW viewers, you will lose this battle badly. Maybe you should come up with something not just to oppose, but to support – preferably something that isn't just another demand for more money with no accountability.

Commenter: glenn scalf
If all things were fair, then merit pay would be a good incentive,however,we do not live in a fair society. I can see where teachers would get passed over because there is a personality conflict with a person in charge of the decision on who to pay and who not to pay,teachers can present creative ways to teach, but that doesn't mean that the students will learn and apply it. After all, you cannot control a person's behavior. You could be the best parent in the world and your child still might grow up to be a criminal. I also see a deficiency in support personel such as janitors, maintenance workers, kitchen staff, office workers, etc. How is it possible for these people to recieve incentive pay for a job well done. These are just a few of the concerns about merit raises that come to mind, but are not, by far, all of my concerns. Getting the criteria right for who will and who won't get a raise is key to having the best people doing the best job for our kids.

Commenter: Frank
There are a few points that appear to be overlooked, and a few fallacious claims, made by critics of merit pay. Some of these critics appear to have ignored the points made in the online debates. Here are a few key points:

1. Merit pay is NOT an attack on teachers -- it is simply an acknowledgement that we should do everything possible to keep effective teachers (not all teachers) in the classroom with students

2. Merit pay plans can and do certainly incorporate both a team AND an individual component to them

3. Teaching to the test is OK as long as this means focusing on important skills and knowledge rather than the memorization of arcane facts or test-taking techniques. Teachers are still able to teach any way they choose, so long as the students are learning what needs to be learned.

4. These programs do NOT have to reward only the elite minority of teachers ... in many merit pay programs, most teachers earn rewards.

5. Rewarding teachers based on success would NOT make us only seek high-achieving students as long as we pay attention to GROWTH

6. Merit pay would NOT lead to seeking the principal's favor as long as merit would be based mostly on objective measures of student learning (as Dr. Ritter argues)

7. Finally, merit pay is relevant here as we have the students for 180 days per year. Yes, there are outside influences (such as poverty, family responsibilities, etc.), but I absolutely believe that MY WORK MATTERS! I cannot believe that so many of my peers are willing to accept that theirs does not.

If we as teachers are not responsible for student learning, then who is? We can blame the system, administrators, the student's family, etc., all day, but in the end, isn't that why I am there?

As a teacher, I promote this idea as I would like to be recognized for the growth my students make each year. Otherwise, after a while, I may leave this field for one in which my good work is rewarded.

Commenter: Sylvia Pesek
It seems to me that if teachers' salaries and benefits are truly competitive with other industries that are vying for the 'best and brightest', then more and more high-quality individuals will be applying for teaching positions.

I agree with the concept of merit pay, and I believe a formula could be worked out that would take all the variables into consideration; not only their students' performance on standardized tests, but also the proportion of their students that came to them as challenged in any of a number of measurable areas and their students' progress in all these areas.

I think there are other factors that should be used in this equation as well; for example, I think there should be a quantifiable yardstick applied to schools that would measure a number of factors, such as location, which would take into consideration the age and condition of the physical plant, average income of the district, etc. All of these determinants could be plugged into an equation that would create a weighted scale for determining merit pay.

In addition, as the program suggested, further training and course work undertaken by teachers who took the initiative to hone their skills would also go into the 'plus' column.

I do NOT believe that merit pay should only be based on students' performance on standardized tests; this makes it too easy to create a scenario where the teacher is just 'teaching the test' and not the subject.

Commenter: Joshua
As noted in the debate, perhaps the most important point to remember about the potential impact of merit pay is that it is an attempt to improve the system. The current system is not working - not all teachers are good. More importantly, there remains high need areas and subjects, where the most needy students still get the least qualified teachers and administrators.

Merit pay is one potential solution, not a panacea. Too often entrenched proponents of the status quo decry "this plan won't fix the schools". That's correct, they won't fix the schools alone, other policies are needed.

However, I disagree that we should put merit pay in all schools. Given constant budget constraints, let's do something novel - let's use merit pay as a means to attract, reward, and retain high quality teachers to high needs areas, not reward those already teaching in the best schools.

Commenter: keith shikany
In the late 1950's and through the 1960's thr United Stats faced the challenge of Sputnik by funding a renascece in math and science. Financed by various federal agencies as the National Science Foundation, thousands of teachers received their master degrees from university math and science departments. We should reinstitute and broaden such a program, which would assure teachers are most knowledgable in academic areas. Such a program would certainly reward teachers and students alike by providing lasting quality to the classroom.

Commenter: J. Angelo Corlett, Ph.D.
The discussion between these two gentlemen reflects a longstanding one in U.S. educational circles.

One thing that I would greatly appreciate is for both sides to take a deeper look, not at some vague notions of teacher performance or student learning, but at more specific conceptions of them. For instance, when I was a student in K-12 public schools, I was taught many valuable things by some rather dedicated teachers. However, I was also taught many lies and half-truths about U.S. history and this country's treatment of American Indians and Blacks. I essentially had to re-learn history and politics at the college-level.

So here is a reasonable question: why in the name of fairness should I EVER support with my tax dollars a school system that continues, according to many of my university students, to teach and the pre-college level lies and half-truths, essentially corrupting our youth?

Is this not a question that lies at the heart of this discussion? What counts as superior teaching and learning? The teaching of lies and half-truths, based on faulty conceptions of U.S. history and political reality? Or, is it rather the teaching of nothing unless it entails truths and no falsehoods or lies? This epistemological question lies at the root of the discussion. While there are indeed debatable matters of U.S. history, there are also clear-cut issues as well. Why not teach the genocide and enslavement of Indians and the enslavement of Blacks and Jim Crow as the U.S. evils they most certainly are? Or is the only morality that counts in U.S. "education" that which seeks to lull young people into a sense of unreality that is easily exposed when conversing with common citizens of many other countries where U.S. history and politics is known with more depth and rigor?

So what really counts as good teaching and learning at the K-12 levels? The teaching and learning of lies and half-truths? If not, then why are so many teachers rewarded for spreading them?

Commenter: J. S.
Education is one of the oddest professions, in that as you go up the ladder, each level of administration has less and less actual teaching experience, until you hit the school board, which may have none. Unfortunately, when it comes to merit programs, either based on test scores or subject to the whims of administrators with less experience than the people they are judging, it is difficult for teachers to be convinced that this process would happen fairly. We have all seen principals that favor the coaching teacher over the art teacher, the attractive teacher over the older teacher. There is a dirth of quality leadership in school settings. Good teaching is not encouraged by raising the competition amongst individuals. A far better strategy is the group win or group loss strategy that encourages teachers to share good ideas and to put pressure on those teachers they know are not performing. And could we also recognize that families have to step up to the plate? American students do poorly because America does not really value education. They don't want homework because it interferes with family time...assuming their is some family time. It's ok if Johnny doesn't do well in math. His parent didn't either. American parents do not put the kind of pressure on kids to perform well in school in the same fashion that other stronger performing countries' families do. You can't truly change American schools until you change American attitudes towards schools.

Commenter: Scott Miller
As Gary Ritter stated, the existence of one (or many) bad merit pay schemes is a straw man to deflect the conversation from those that clearly do work. NOW itself disputes Dennis Van Roekel on the factors influencing student learning. The institutional integrity argument is laughable - many institutions that work successfully as a team have different pay grades. The argument about making teachers "feel bad" is even worse; it exemplifies a priority on the comfort of teachers over the achievement of students.

Achievement is the real problem here. How do you measure it? It's unlikely that a standardized test can give you the full picture, but if European countries can standardize some elements of learning (if only for benchmarking purposes), so can we.

Finally, a successful merit pay scheme would: a) reward those who showed either major improvement or consistent high results compared with comparable schools; and b)incorporate proven incentives to improve teacher performance.

Is there a reasoned counterargument to this, or does it require the fallacy of equating merit with Bush's standardized tests?

Commenter: Candace Lider
Merit pay is a bad idea because it is based on the business model. I agree with Mr. Van Roekel that it would hurt the teaching process by promoting competition over cooperation. One has only to read the current headlines to know that private business corruption is rampant. Business executives in pursuit of bonuses (merit pay) committed fraud and continue to rob the American taxpayer.
Scapegoating teachers is just a way to privatize the public schools and eliminate good union jobs. Here in Albany, New York we have several private agencies that are receiving public funds in the name of reform. Those schools receive more money per pupil than the public school and as yet have not out performed the public school in reading or math. The private companies bottom line is profit over children and teachers. In addition these Charter Schools are bankrupting the Albany Public School System. Is the future of education going the way of the healthcare and military whereby public funds are supporting private business ventures?

Commenter: George T. Karnezis
I need more information on this question of merit pay. First, if it is true that teachers are to be rewarded because of their students' higher test scores, then those teachers lucky enough to teach students whose home situations favor certain sorts of literacy, are going to do better than those teachers whose audience comes from a "disadvantaged " background. This question was not addressed in the exchange and needs to be.

Also, I am deeply concerned about who benefits from mass testing; a recent article in THE ATLANTIC suggested that it's the testing companies that profit and that the curriculum has been given over to test preparation. As a retired teacher, I can tell you this is a silly and toxic practice that demeans the meaning of education.

Finally, I am quite tired of hearing claims that teacher unions protect incompetence. My understanding is that if a teacher is not succeeding, then there are ways, perhaps through "progressive discipline", of helping him or her improve, and it is the responsibility of the administration to take the necessary steps to see strengthen that teacher's capacities. If after so doing, improvement does not happen, then I know of know Union contract that would disallow the firing of a teacher whose lack of competence has been sufficiently documented --- which is to say: teachers, like anyone else under a contract, may be terminated "with just cause." This being the case, it is not the Unions which protect incompetence, but administrators who are neither providing adequate correctives or, if needed, the needed documentation to prove just cause cause for dismissal

Commenter: beleaguered
The public operates under a misconception about the power of the individual teacher. The teacher has negligible input over budget, curriculum, materials, schedule, class make up, physical facilities. They have little to no control over the work of their colleagues or their students' previous instruction. They certainly have no control over students' health and home habits. Teachers are part of a system. The system extends to the school, the district, the state, the federal government, and society itself. The system may need overhauling, much as the auto industry needs overhauling, but it strikes me just as bizarre to start educational reform with attacks on the classroom teacher as it would to start reforming the auto industry by attacking its line workers. More appropriate is to start with a review of social values, goals, budget, and leadership. Teachers routinely struggle for achievement in the absence of these and many succeed, usually with high sacrifices to personal and financial health, but to set up such models as the standard is wrong. Why require every teacher to transcend the system and its lack of leadership? Why not change the system?

Commenter: Kathleen Linehan
As a recent graduate with a education major, the idea of merit pay seems frightening. To some prospective educators, the idea of monetary rewards for high test scores is encouraging-- however, to some others it may be a deterrent to join the teaching field. Teaching is already shortly supplied and establishing an environment where teachers are expected to act like business people and compete for high test scores can possibly drive away potential educators. It would be very important for the school districts to NOT include first year (or even second year) teachers to be involved in merit pay. Teachers should also be assured that they are given numerous tools to implement high test scores. This is where Mr. Van Roekel's argument is correct: we need funding for better technology, textbooks, etc in order to achieve higher test scores. In essence, both men are correct and it is unfortunate that we do not have the funding to use both of their systems.

Commenter: Barry Buchanan
Merit pay is a uniquely destructive and counter-productive management ploy. It sets up jealousy in the staff and encourages conspiracies among the staff and management in determining the names of the fair haired employees.

Worse, it implements the "Super Star" system, which is destructive of staff morale and counter-productive to the actual goal, which is raising the average performance of the school.

Commenter: J Vaccaro
I only have a question, where is the school board in all this? The local Board of Education who is supose to be elected by the people didn't even come up once in your broadcast. Why was that?

Commenter: Carol Silber
I have taught for over 40 years. I do believe that our public schools need reform, but first we need to get our priorities straight. Today I tutored a 7 year old because she was having trouble with a math assignment. She was being asked to find a fraction of a number. To perform this operation you need to know how to divide then multiply a number in that order. When I was in the classroom this was considered a fifth grade skill and now we are demanding this of second graders? I was taught and still believe that mathematics is a developemental subject. The topics were chosen based on the median age most children can learn them. In our attempt to raise math skills in our country we are now asking teachers to teach totally inappropriate topics and making children feel inadequate when they can't perform. No amounts of merit pay will get students to learn what they cannot and implying that a seven year old is a failure is inexcusable.

Commenter: John--I have to be done! Yes blood boiling television every week indeed!
Yes...My blood is boiling...Merit pay works. It gives incentive to the best and the brightest. It did wonders for Wall Street! Yes, now we are bailing out the best and brightest who got us into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Let's do that for public schools too! What a great idea. Instead of merit pay how about we try to make every public school a great school! Apparently every school how bows to the "Great Arne" magician gets money. Every other school can rot! Read:

Again, I challenge NOW to call Dr. Gerald Bracey and invite him on your program

Commenter: John Again
US schools do not measure up. FALSE. Read:

Charter schools produce better results and are innovative. FALSE. Read: 2002-101/Chapter 13-Bracey-Final-Cut.rtf

A good school can overcome every obstacle. FALSE. Read:

Commenter: John
As a fan of NOW, and a public school teacher, I am deeply disappointed with this segment of NOW and may stop watching it. The merit pay issue is a smoke screen. Comparative worth studies prove that teachers are paid less than their private sector counterparts with similar educational degrees and responsibilities. First vouchers for private schools, then charters, then NCLB and now turn around schools. READ THE RESEARCH!!!! How can an educator possibly control a student's learning when 91% of that student's life occurs outside of the school building?

While the program gave the appearance of balance by having the spokesperson for the Chicago Teachers Union, it is obvious that the weight of the program favors Arne Duncan and his position. Read the works of Richard Rothstein, Gerald Bracey, Gary Miron and David Berliner to uncover the truth about the status of education in America. Enough of public school bashing. We have our problems but the beatings will continue (or firings) until morale improves will not solve the problem

I challenge the staff of NOW, to produce a program interviewing the above scholars and then make a conclusion. I expected more out of public television than this kind of tripe!

Commenter: Jon Adam
Not sure if the discussion has been discontinued, but I had submitted a comment after the show last night and it hasn't appeared.

Commenter: Alfred Jimenez
Doctors make more money by getting more patients; lawyers more cases; real estate agents more properties sold. Teachers? The only way teachers can make more money is by moving out of the classroom and into administration. Teachers should be paid over 80k a year as a first year salary. However, the problem is the genderization of the teaching workforce with 70% being women. Culturally, teacher pay will never rise because of this. Men control this society and call all the shots. School boards know this and politicians know this. I guarantee you this: if you were to see a precipitous rise in teacher pay, merit or not, you will see a concomitant rise in divorce rates. How do you think a white anglo male will feel when his wife, who now makes more than her husband wih her increased teacher salary, tells him to take out the trash and get off the recliner and stop watching the plasma TV she just paid for with her teacher's salary?

Who salivates when states debate teacher pay raises?
Administrators! They just sit back and wait for teacher salaries to inch up because they know that their salaries will have to rise automatically.

One of my educaion professors said that Utah experimented with merit pay and a teacher was almost making more than the principal!

To my professor, the principal should be no more than the caretaker of the building. He is not a master teacher. He stated that the CEO of a hospital is not its highest paid employee. This is what schools should use as a model. Heart and brain surgeons are paid the most and highly recruited. Teachers are the heart and brain surgeons since they work with the hearts and brains of our kids. They should be the highest paid people in schools, not the administrators and we have to stop paying curriculum specialists, directors, etc. more than teachers. We should stop rewarding them for leaving the classroom. If you pay teachers much much more, you won't need administrators, specialists and disciplinarians. Take that money and spend it on teacher salaries.

Finally, we have to realize that schools are the most resistant institution for change. This is why we are still using an agrarian calander with three months off for the summer.

Commenter: Ed Johnson
Von Roekel "wins" by default, actually. Ritter's argument is specious, internally inconsistent, reductive. By his argument, Ritter does good by Pavlov's salivating dogs.

Commenter: Geneva Chapman
I am a former public school teacher and was a rep for both NEA and AFT while teaching in schools in Wichita Public Schools. I left the profession due to the burnout rate of teachers forced to "teach to the test" rather than fostering learning. I do not think the teachers' unions have the best interest of students at heart since by their very nature, unions support keeping their members employed, regardless of how well they do their jobs. If teachers really want to be treated as professional and seek professional status, they should get rid of the unions and form professional organizations that oversee the members to ensure that they are qualified and well-trained. In Toledo, Ohio, where I now live, the president of the local AFT union has more power than the superintendent and the union determines whether or not teachers are hired, often not recommending African-American, Hispanic, and older teachers coming into the profession from other fields. I was a Teacher Corps intern with a bachelor's degree in English and no teaching experiend and I, along with the other nine interns, brought another perspective to the classroom that made us better teachers. Rather than seek out such people, Toledo's union rejects such teachers. The result has been Toledo scoring lower than all of the major cities in the state in past years. One superintendent fought with the union and was able to get test scores up but was rejected by the city and has since moved on to Cleveland.

Commenter: Brian
As a teacher that once worked under the "Merit" pay system in California, I found it to be another fringe solution. It can promotes gaming of the system. Many of us that work at low performing schools spend unbelievable amouts of time training to the test. How take test. How to eliminate answers. Focus on standards, based on the question count on the test. We need an insentive for talented young folks to become a teacher. A small bonus on the chance your kids do well isn't going to draw in bright talent.
Here's what schools need. Clerical staff to photocopy, order supplys type up documents. Staff to contact parents when students are absent or tardy. Time within the school day to remediate those that need it. Teacher assistance. Interesting and engauging electives and physical education. All the aformentioned have been cut out of school budgets and dumped on teachers.
Finally, as mentioned in the program, in math and science the US test low. The test referred to is the TIMMS assessment. Most states have far more standards then can be taught in a full year let alone 180 days. Most other countries have far less in standards and much more focus on those few standards. In one analysis, it was estimated that it would take until the 22nd grade to complete the national math standards for K-12(Marzano. That alone will kill our system with or without merit pay.

Commenter: Been There
"Merit" pay is an insult to anyone who has ever taught at any level (I have 33 years as a univeristy prof). It implies that the equally insulting expression "those that can, do, those that can't, teach" is belived true, and that teachers are so ummotivated that they won't/can't perform without 'incentives'. Every instance of 'incentive' awards that I have seen in my long career has led to pandering (on the part of the awardees to their higher ups; regardless of so-called metrics for measuring learning improvement)and bad feelings by those who do great jobs, but are bypassed for awards. The real solution is so simple: smaller class sizes, parental involvement, 'real' salaries for teachers - and one other huge item - *please* keep people with Ph.Ds in Education out of the business of improving education! The damage done by these people has far outstripped any good they might have accidentally done in their quest to develop and sell new programs (examples: the SMSG fiasco of the 60s math instruction, collaborative learning, etc.). Because they get no 'credit' for mundane things (reducing class sizes, etc), they can only make a name for themselves by pushing untested 'new' programs. I love the fact that Obama is our new President, but his choice of Education Secretary will probably be the one thing I (and the country)come to regret.

Commenter: Jacquelyn Dibble-Robinson
The educational system in America needs a change for improvement. There were some good points brought up by Mr. Ritter for having a positive atmosphere for students to learn. When both the learner and the teacher are growing good gains will be made.
The one school in Chicago changed in a year!

Commenter: Seasoned veteran
Smart teacher is right. We would never accept merit pay for our public safety workers, why are we even considering it for teachers?

If we want to improve our schools we would make them modern air conditioned facilities with up to date technology and all the supplies every classroom needs. And there would be no more than 15 kids in elementary classes and 20 in high school.

Spend your money on the best facilities and small classes and schools WILL improve.

Commenter: Sue Abrams
How do the 25 countries that score better than the U.S. treat teacher compensation. What strategies are they using to better educate their students.

Commenter: Jon Adam, Science teacher
One of the biggest issues missing in all of this debate about education reform is student accountability. Yes, education has been teacher centered for far too long. However the pendulum has shifted too far towards teacher/school accountability and too far away from student accountability.

Having worked in engineering for a number of years before taking on the old family practice of teaching I have seen in High School classrooms a severe disregard for deadlines and quality of work from students. I have empathy for the employers who will be expecting quality and timely work from this upcoming genration. I also hear from my fellow colleagues that this lack of accountability is a fairly recent phenomena as administrators are bowing to political and sometimes parental pressure to focus on raising test scores rather than teaching children how to actually think critically and produce quality work.

Students expect us to just give them the answers because teachers are being forced to teach to high stakes standardized tests. Teachers' jobs in the Boulder Valley School district are being threatened if their students don't show grade level improvement on standardized tests even if that student was below grade level from the get go. Education is becoming focused completely on testing and data analysis and not actually providing a meaningful education.

Just ask any Elementary teacher how much time they are having to spend out of the classroom creating charts and graphs of student testing results, leaving weeks of teaching to underqualified substitute teachers.

Administrators, politics and some parental pressures have essentially done away with notion of doing quality work the first time on time. Parents want their children to be able to retake tests, rewrite papers and reports and turn in homework as many times as necessary whenever they want. It sounds like that should be a good thing, but students don't study because they know they can just retake the test because that is what is demanded. They don't turn in work on time because mom and dad will email the teacher and the principal asking for more time or will demand what I will do to improve their child's scores.

Sorry, but the kids need to do the work and be held accountable. There is absolutely no accountability tied to standardized testing. We have to spend precious classroom time convincing students to do well on standardized tests, not for the students' sake but for our sake. That is not teaching with the best interst of the students in mind.

Sorry, but Mr. Ritter's notion of tying teacher pay and time to fussing over to endless amounts of data and graphs from high stakes standardized testing takes valuable time away from being an effective teacher in the classroom.

The vast majority of teachers do not enter the field for the pay (else we wouldn't be teachers) but because we are already motivated (personally incentivised) to help children become well educated thinking adults with the skills to be be successful productive members of a civil society. People like Mr. Ritter have no clue what incentives teachers need and want.

Sure, we would like more money, who wouldn't. What we want more than anything else is to be able to be teachers again. To be able to create a classroom environment based on fostering a joy of learning for the sake of learning. Not high stakes standardized tests that hang over us like the sword of damocles.

Commenter: Special ed teacher

The reason I left general ed and went into special ed is I knew how to teach and how to help kids learn but I couldn't practice what I knew because I had far too many kids. Now I have small groups and my kids make great gains. I can focus on specific skills for each child.

Warehousing children in large groups is cost effective but doesn't help them learn to their maximum potential. Put them in classes no larger than 15 and most teachers will be able to literally work miracles. It's expensive but I believe our children are worth the expense.

Commenter: Susan
I voted for Mr. Ritter simply because he was the better debater, while Mr. Van Roekel simply discussed broad generalities, offered few specifics, and suggested little more than to uphold the status quo.
But the problem is far more complex than this discussion indicated.
How about the university departments that are in charge of teaching the teachers? If teacher pay is dependent on student test scores, can we arrange to reward the education departments that turn out these teachers? In the opinion of a friend of mine who taught college history for over thirty years, of all the students he had, the education majors were the least intelligent. What are the standards for the college departments which admit student teachers? How challenging are education courses that are supposedly designed to uphold the concept of teaching as a profession? Medical students must maintain high grade point averages to get into medical schools. What are the GPA standards for teachers?
If teachers are paid based on students' test scores, will teachers teach for tests only? Do these standardized tests include essay questions that test competence of written expression, analytical ability, and reason? Or do the test scores simply reflect students' ability to memorize or pick from multiple choice answers?
Are there any statistics that indicate that merit pay as Mr. Ritter describes will help retain good teachers? Those teachers who I have talked to who left teaching did not leave because of pay. They left because of frustration with the system, with the lack of discipline support from administrators, exhaustion from overcrowded classrooms, and having to teach for standardized tests. Many were very intelligent individuals who went into teaching because they wanted to help young people. They left their jobs because they could not succeed within the present system without being completely drained. The system did not serve either them nor the students. They had to serve the system.
The NOW program looked at a school that improved when discipline became more stringent. Guess what? Discipline is a major factor in creating a positive learning environment. What kind of support can we offer teachers to maintain discipline
I suggest that we see teaching, as Mr. Van Roekel suggests, as a real profession. Put teachers on the same level as doctors, engineers, and architects. Pay them accordingly. But, raise the standards to be admitted to a college teaching program. Increase the intellectual level of their required education courses. Make them real professionals. This plan made lead to fewer teachers who can meet professional requirements. But these few would be in high demand and could pick and choose the school they would teach in. They could pick the one that offered the best discipline and general administrative support--one that served teachers and their students.
Obviously I have more questions than answers. My suggestion of teachers becoming real professionals may appear a little ludicrous, but at least it is more to the point of developing a better public education system. I only wish that either Mr. Ritter or Mr. Van Roekel had some real answers.

Commenter: Sheila Bunch
$40K base salary - how nice. Not in Nevada, and even less so if the governor gets his way and decreases our pay by 13% to balance the budget. So much for incentives. We have had merit incentives in the past, but they never last and are rarely delivered as promised.

Merit pay based on growth is tricky, since our current data gathering is shallow, simplistic and infrequent. It also doesn't adequately test outliers (children at the bottom and top ends of the curve), or reflect the richness in education that children need beyond basic skill instruction. My special ed students are not tested at their instructional reading level: they have to wade through grueling tests that are highly inaccurate measures of their personal growth. Their strengths are rarely acknowledged: I have students who have severe reading disabilities, but I would hire them any time to build my house or take care of my kids. And some of them have much more common sense than highly educated adults. How do we measure those strengths, which our country also needs?

Commenter: Jenni
Merit pay would pit one teacher against another and would put an end to collaboration.

Commenter: Sandra Simons-Ailes
As a classrom teacher for 34 years AND adjunct faculty for 20 years at a local college training undergraduate and graduate level teachers, it amazes me that neither gentleman (or anyone else in the public debated on school reform) addresses the educational requirement of only a Bachelors degree for teacher certification. Teachers are inadequately educated as education theory and methods courses, and student teaching consumes their junior and senior years at the university. The nation would be better served if teachers had to have a Bachelors with a major other than education - then teachers would be educated! Of course the nation would also have to then pay these better educated teachers better salaries. We have appropriately set high educational achievement standards for our students, but we've failed to require adequate education of our teachers.

Commenter: Terry Daugherty
The concept that, Public Education is Failing, I believe is a bad argument. I visit many public schools in the suburbs and rural areas of my state and they are doing very good work. They are raising their scores on the state standards test. They are trying new and innovative ways to do instruction.

Yes, failure is occurring in some urban schools and we need to fix that problem. The language, "bad teachers" and "failing schools" is one that is common among people who don't spend very much time in the thousands of schools that do work well in our country. Students have little respect for their education when the adults around them and the media around them do not have respect for those institutions.

I find it interesting that in Sweden, a country that consistently scores in the top 5 for educational testing, the most respected and sought after job is educator. It used to be the same here in America, but no one respects those in the profession any more (unless you had an other career first like Electrical Engineer).

I also find it interesting, that most teachers don't like merit pay, but everyone outside of education is sure it is the right thing to do. Yes, teachers want to be paid for harder work, but many are spending nights and weekends at their school doing more work, more in-service, more committees, and more collaboration. Sure there are bad teachers, especially in buildings with bad administrators. I have not worked in any field where there aren't some employees that are bad, and seem to stay on and on. Principals need to be in those classrooms evaluating teachers.

Commenter: Ronald Zigler
Holding teachers accountable for student learning (as measured by standardized tests) is nearly comparable to holding dentists accountable for their patients cavities. We have other measures of a dentist's competence, and likewise we need other measures of a teacher's competence. Pay teachers more for working in a troubled school district, pay them more if they teach a subject for which there are fewer teachers, and pay a teacher more for gaining national certification. That is merit worth rewarding. Other than that, school districts need to take responsibility for the inappropriate (or premature) award of tenure.

Commenter: Carol Barfield
"Merit" salary increases must measure the success of each child, from where each child starts at the start of any course, to where each child ends at the end of any course. Measure each child only against himself or herself. It is the only valid measurement of the success of any student or teacher. That alone will radically change the entire scope of "education", and give each child an accurate gauge for his or her own, personal achievement, as well as provide data for "merit" salary increases for teachers. I like courses of action that accomplish more than one thing at a time!

Commenter: Anna
While Van Roekel raises many valid concerns about the implementation of merit pay in our schools, he ultimately represents the stagnation and complacency that have allowed our public schools to reach this abysmal state. I feel that teachers should be rewarded for good test scores as well as moving their students further towards high academic goals. As a New York City public school teacher myself, I can honestly say that quality teaching is perhaps the most important component to improving our students' skills. The difference between an effective teacher and a struggling teacher can make all the difference.

Commenter: Smart Teacher
All merit pay would do to the current system is give principals the opportunity to pick favorites. That invites discrimination. As a pre-op transexual, I fear that I would be discriminated against simply because of my lifestyle. Single salary schedules would prevent that discrimination. Until you've walked a mile in my shoes, you don't know what you're talking about.

Commenter: Frank
Not all merit pay programs are created the same across the country, so to say that "merit pay rewards a minority of good teachers" is a completely uninformed opinion. In a well-designed plan, ALL of the "good teachers" would be rewarded if they do what we want them to do: raise the overall level of student achievement. However, in reading Mr. Van Roekel's comments, it seems like raising student achievement is not very high on his agenda; rather, his goal is to simply get teachers more money, without addressing whether or not a teacher is actually a "good teacher". How does raising salaries across the board promote excellence in the classroom? The simple fact is, it doesn't. All it does it maintain the status quo, and quite frankly, the status quo isn't cutting it these days.

We should have THE highest expectations for our teachers, and continue to challenge them to be their best. Further, we should reward EXCELLENT teachers with more money, to keep them where we need them the classroom. At the end of the day, we should be more concerned with how our students are doing, and less concerned about "giving them (teachers) added pressure"....maybe extra pressure, and rewards for excellence, are exactly what teachers need.

Commenter: Smart(er) Teacher
A good merit pay plan would not simply reward a "minority of good teachers"...instead, a well thought out plan would reward ALL teachers that do well, especially when it comes to levels of student achievement. At the end of the day, isn't that what we want? For our students to do better? If teachers feel that they are under increased pressure because of this type of program, and it results first in higher levels of student achievement, and then a large monetary bonus to teachers, then I'm all for it. However, what gets lost in this whole debate is the fact that we are prioritizing the needs of the teachers first, and making student learning secondary. If you look back on Mr. Van Roekel's comments, he is clear in his approach to improve conditions for teachers, but what about the students who they serve? At the end of the day, I want the best teachers to receive the highest level of compensation, because it seems like keeping them in the classroom should be our highest priority. How does raising salaries across the board for ALL teachers reward the good ones? It seems like all that does is reinforce the status quo, and frankly, the status quo doesn't seem to be working right now.

Commenter: Sherri C. Lauver
Dr. Ritter's argument is persuasive and compelling. Talented, capable teachers who promote student learning should be compensated accordingly.

Commenter: Luke Lancaster
Merit pay is a major threat to institutional integrity. If one teacher gets paid more, it's probably because she was the principal's favorite. Allowing some teachers to be paid more than others for being "better teachers" will lead to teachers being able to work less as a team. They will resent each other. They will be focused on each other, and not their students. We should do what's best for the children.

Commenter: Polycarp the Tiny
A single salary schedule does not result in all teachers being good. If the two are related at all, they are inversely related. We need to be able to reward good teaching--teaching which leads unambiguously to student test score gains.

Commenter: Ron Breines
I taught high school English for 4 years in a low income district in New Mexico. Although there were a few lousy teachers (still are,) most were extremely dedicated and effective, yet all were terribly underpaid. Merit pay does not address the issue of overall low pay, and so it does little to encourage teaching as a solid profession. And to link pay to test scores demonstrates a lack of understanding about student motivation and reasons for learning. Many students do not do well on tests for many reasons. That does not mean the student hasn't learned, it only means he hasn't learned how to test well. I left teaching in 2004 because of these two reasons. I earn way more training horses than I did teaching the youth of our country. And I refused to teach to tests.

Commenter: Cor ad cor
"THEY ALL HAVE TO BE GOOD". Indeed. And thank goodness the single salary schedule has done such a fantastic job in this country of ensuring that, in fact, all of our teachers are very good at their jobs. They are so good at their jobs, in fact, that it's an insult to suggest that their students should be tested. Instead, the students and teachers should all be patted on the backs and reminded that, while other countries are turning out scientists, engineers, doctors, and scholars at a much higher rate than ours, they should be applauded for trying, and that is good enough! And after that, they should all come together for a group reading of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." Hurrah for feeling good; boo to rewarding goodness.

Commenter: Joan Manning
Some teachers, despite their best efforts, find they must spend much of their instruction time dealing with inattentive and disruptive students. Students who have not learned good habits at home and those who find learning difficult will lower the score of any test. A test is fair only if it measures relative improvement. It is not fair if all students are measured against a universal standard. There should also be a tutoring system for those who are falling behind.

Commenter: Meteor
To focus on money and merit pay for teachers as the cure all for American education is woefully ignorant. In Maryland teachers are already spending the year teaching to very expensive tests which are themselves a scandalous racket and a rip-off of school systems, pouring public tax dollars into corporate coffers. Why should these tests be used to judge the quality of education and teachers. Love of learning, invention, and creativity must replace love of dollars as the nurturing and sustaining force in American education. And communities must really know what is going on in their schools, day to day. Many people would be absolutely shocked, but many parents, as a matter of fact, do not care as long as schools have their kids for longer days and longer years. If you have never experienced a good educational experience, don't try to design one.
Value experience!

Commenter: elizabeth
The flaw in the argument for using student assessment tools to measure teacher effectiveness is the assumption that changes in the students' achievement test scores is a measure of the teachers' works. Student achievement is synergistically coming from the influences of the student, the teacher, the parents, other family members and peers. As I used to point out to my students, when a student is tested, that is a test of the student's preparation and understanding, a test of whether or not the subject matter is age appropriate, a test of whether the teacher has effectively explained and reinforced the principles being tested, including whether the appropriate length of instructional time has been spent on that subject. There are so many factors other than just the teacher that influence student performance, especially when the student is an adolescent.
In virtually ALL states in the USA, teacher performance is most often assessed based on one or two observations by an administrator who may not be the most impartial. Politics are as rampant in schools as in any other business.
It's all an imperfect system.

Commenter: Smart Teacher
Would you ask civil servants like police and firemen to agree to a "merit pay" plan? No. Why? Because their jobs are TOO IMPORTANT. THEY ALL HAVE TO BE GOOD. Isn't it about time we judged our teachers -- also civil servants -- with the same esteem? Merit Pay rewards a minority of "good teachers" while depressing the heck out of the rest of them. Dennis was far too conservative and timid a debater here, but he was on the right side of the issue. Making teachers feel ostracized and giving them added pressure will not incentivize them to become better teachers, any more than you would be if you were passed over for a promotion.

A Radical Fix for Schools?

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