Pros and Cons of Merit Pay for Teachers

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Merit pay for teachers is one of the most difficult debates that many communities are having in regards to their educational systems. Of course good teachers should be rewarded for their ability to teach, but how is “good” measured in today’s system? And what happens to those teachers that do a great job of teaching, but the performance of their students doesn’t measure up to certain expectations? Here is a look at the pros and cons of merit pay for teachers.

The Pros of Merit Pay For Teachers

1. It provides a reward for producing results.
If there’s one thing that the American system does fairly well, it is to reward those who produce results. Teachers, however, don’t often get tangible rewards for their good work. They’re remembered by their students, but may not even receive a cost of living raise for several years. Teachers have bills to pay too. Merit pay helps to reward those teachers that are able to produce results.

2. It provides an incentive to teachers to motivate their students.
How do you get students to knuckle down and study difficult concepts? When there is an incentive for a teacher to become creative with their approach, there is a better opportunity to have students reach for higher goals and potentially achieve them.

3. Strong merit pay systems may attract better teachers.
The best teachers might not be teaching for the money, but having a good salary package that is laden with incentives doesn’t hurt recruitment efforts. A merit pay system is often better than other salary structures because it provides a pathway toward a fair salary and annual increases, which means better teachers might leave their current position to go to a merit pay system.

4. It may provide an incentive for more to pursue a teaching career.
With lower than average wages in many communities, teaching isn’t a profitable career. Some teachers struggle to meet basic needs or are taking supplemental benefits to eat or pay their utility bills. Merit pay would give a chance for teachers to take ownership on at least some level of what they can earn while doing something they love.

The Cons of Merit Pay For Teachers

1. It creates competition within the employee base.
Teachers that feel like they do a good job, but don’t meet the qualifications for a merit pay increase, are going to be naturally competitive with teachers who do receive an increase. This will be enhanced if there is a feeling that the teachers who did earn the increase were undeserving of it. The end result is a focus on teacher salaries instead of where it needs to belong: on the students.

2. There is no group method of defining success for merit pay.
Students come in all shapes and sizes. Up to 20% of the student population in every grade may have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. Students tend to be more prolific in certain subjects than others. A teacher’s merit pay isn’t only dependent on their teaching style, but the ability of their students to learn. That is an unpredictable variable.

3. Merit pay is a system that ultimately encourages corruption.
It becomes easier to justify falsifying test results if it means a pay increase is going to be headed a teacher’s way. We’ve already discovered that merit pay systems tend to cause teachers to teach to the tests that are being handed out instead of general subject material. If merit pay becomes a standardized system, the educational levels of students could go down because the only information being learned is what will help them be able to pass a test. Teachers may also be encouraged to sabotage one another’s results if that means they’d be able to receive a raise, which further eliminates the purpose of teaching.

4. It can be an expensive system to implement.
For school districts that aren’t using a system of merit pay, there are the administrative costs of implementing a new evaluation system. Standards have to be developed, monitored, and regulated. Those admin costs are dollars that could be paid to teachers who may already be underpaid compared to other career fields in their community already.

The pros and cons of merit pay for teachers show that this option holds some potential, but it isn’t without risk. One thing is for certain: without competitive pay, there will be a smaller pool of good teachers from which to choose and that means fewer learning opportunities.