Saturday, February 23, 2008

Merit-based pay for teachers?

This TIME cover story by Claudia Wallis looks at performance-based pay for teachers:
Before ProComp, Betz had reached the top of the district's pay scale at $53,500 and, despite high marks from her bosses, was looking at nothing more than an annual cost-of-living raise (currently $260) for the rest of her career. "I've worked in hard-to-serve schools my entire career," says Betz. "I make home visits. I make phone calls. I'm looking at ProComp as compensation for the things that are above and beyond." Betz didn't expect performance pay to change anything about how she does her job but says it has made her even more driven. "Now I refuse to let kids fail," she says. "I'm going to bulldoze whatever the problem is and solve it." The bonus money is simply a just reward. "I'm not a money grubber. Most teachers aren't. But people in other professions get raises," she says. "Why shouldn't we?"

It's a good goal for an entire nation in need of better-quality teaching. As U.S. school districts embark on hundreds of separate experiments involving merit pay, some lessons seem clear. If the country wants to pay teachers like professionals—according to their performance, rather than like factory workers logging time on the job—it has to provide them with other professional opportunities, like the chance to grow in the job, learn from the best of their peers, show leadership and have a voice in decision-making, including how their work is judged. Making such changes would require a serious investment by school districts and their taxpayers. But it would reinvigorate a noble profession.

This seems like a good idea to me, if done well. "Like factory workers logging time on the job"--I think that describes pretty well the current state of how America treats teachers. Which is sad, considering that teaching actually takes a lot of time and effort to master. According to the article, "It takes at least two years to master the basics of classroom management and six to seven years to become a fully proficient teacher."

Also interesting is the sidebar article describing the teaching profession in other countries.
All teacher candidates in Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, for example, receive two to three years of graduate-level preparation for teaching, at government expense, plus a living stipend. Unlike the U.S., where teachers either go into debt to prepare for a profession that will pay them poorly or enter with little or no training, these countries made the decision to invest in a uniformly well-prepared teaching force by recruiting top candidates and paying them while they receive extensive training.

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