Think about the worst teachers you know: the ones who haven't updated their lesson plans since the 1980s, or who let the kids watch movies every day to avoid having to work. Well Charles Hasse, President of the Washington Teachers Association wants them to get 50% more pay. And he doesn't want a dollar more to go to the teachers who really do work hard. "Don't even talk about merit pay until we get across-the-board wage hikes" seems to be the Washington teachers' response to the nationwide trend toward performance pay for teachers,discussed this week in the New York Times.
The union leaders interviewed are justifiably proud of their long service as teachers, but I wonder if any of them has ever worked in an organization where pay is tied to performance. Every single one of their concerns is equally valid at any competitive company or organization, but ultimately merit pay works:
- There is no good way to measure performance. Performance bonuses at companies are just as hard to hand out: do you give a bigger bonus to the salesperson who happened to close the deal or to the guy in the back office whose tireless effort made the deal possible? We all know that some teachers are way better than others, and even the teachers themselves can tell you which ones are which. Companies have to figure this out all the time--why can't schools?
- Merit pay will go to those who kiss up to the boss. You think that never happens at, say, Microsoft? But guess what, the boss is being measured too--by performance--and those administrators who stupidly dish out rewards to their cronies without regard to performance will eventually find their own jobs in jeopardy.
It's ironic that we grade everyone in the school system (administrators, students, parents) , but somehow the "M-word" is inappropriate when we mention teachers.
Look at this list of salaries of Mercer Island teachers. See anything out of line? It's sad that this is public information only because the money we give to teachers --the most important component of a successful school--takes no account of how good they are or how hard they work.