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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

August 26, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Merit pay: How would success be determined?

With merit pay, no way to determine who merits the money

Editor, The Times:

I see you’ve jumped onto the ever popular merit-pay bandwagon [“Merit pay for teachers would end fight on pay,” Opinion, editorial, Aug. 24]. It sounds so good on paper.

But you argue it would take the steam out of salary negotiations? How? By paying a few teachers a little better but the majority less? The idea of rewarding the best teachers is appealing.

But no one, and I mean no one, has figured out an objective way to quantify best teaching. Many merit-pay plans have emerged. They are all deeply flawed. Principals get into most classrooms once or twice a year. Evaluations by students and parents can be manipulated and are not objective in any way.

Some of the most effective teachers are not the most popular. After all, they push students hard and don’t always hand out the grades students and parents want. Every kid and every classroom is different. There are huge problems with performance testing. Any educator can tell you what they are.

Every fall, like clockwork, your editors turn the guns on those greedy teachers who dare to disrupt the beginning of school with their unreasonable demands. It’s an easy story to sell. Fact is, it’s a lot easier to blame teachers and spout simpleminded solutions than to dig a little deeper into the problems facing education in this state and report them.

— Dan Reeder, Seattle

Education a collaborative effort that’s too hard to put price tag on

The difficulty with merit pay is that it doesn’t recognize the collaborative effort in building a student’s skills.

I am a resource teacher, and I traditionally work with students who receive special-education services. However, due to the increasing demands of No Child Left Behind and Annual Yearly Progress, any student who struggles in school — be it due to English-language acquisition, poverty or illness — will likely receive reading, math and/or writing instruction from a resource teacher.

I had a student who could not read English in January; in June, he was reading nearly 100 words per minute, yet was considered to have not met the standard as his score was below grade level. Another student more than doubled her reading rate; again, since her June score was slightly below grade level, she did not meet the set standard.

If merit pay were in place, who would get the salary increase? The student’s classroom teacher, who sees the child only for social studies and science? The resource specialist, who teaches the child reading two hours a day? The instructional assistant who works with the student in the before-school reading lab? The AmeriCorps volunteer the student receives math tutoring from? How about merit pay for the parent who makes the effort to get the child to school fed, clothed appropriately, on time and prepared to learn?

The trouble with merit pay is it assumes only one person is responsible for a student’s achievement, and it fails to recognize the collaborative efforts necessary for a student’s success.

— Martha de Carbonel Patterson, Silverdale

With multiple evaluations, merit pay will work

Effective teachers should be rewarded for the work they do to help improve students’ performance. Pay increases should be awarded based on a variety of different components, not just test scores.

Take, for example, the Denver Public Schools’ ProComp system. Teachers earn bonuses based on four components: market incentives like teaching in challenging schools or hard-to-fill positions; student growth including, but not limited to, test scores; knowledge and skills like advanced degrees, national certification and professional development; and professional evaluations like satisfactory ratings from administrators.

The Kent School District recently sent a letter to community members stating that the Kent teacher’s union had rejected its proposed pay increases. What the district failed to mention is that those pay increases would be tied directly to teachers’ yearly performance evaluations and their students’ WASL scores.

Though I support a form of merit pay, as a special-education teacher in a Title I school, I cannot support a pay increase that is based on whether or not my students pass the state test. There are far too many factors out of my control that impact my students’ test-taking abilities. Did my students eat breakfast? Did they have a safe place to sleep the night before? Will there be food on the table for dinner?

Before teacher unions can agree to merit pay or a pay increase proposal in the case of Kent School District, fair and reasonable systems need to be developed that do not penalize teachers for factors out of their control.

— Allison Wegg, Seattle

Comments | More in Education, Education reform, Labor, Seattle School Board, Teachers, Washington Assessment of Student Learning

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