Monday, November 06, 2006

Merit pay experiment

Chicago's schools will start experimenting with merit pay thanks to a generous federal grant:

That's just what the school system plans to do with a $27.5 million federal grant, which will make Chicago the largest district in the country to experiment with merit pay for teachers. Under the plan, 40 struggling schools with high teacher turnover would hire "master teachers" who would receive an extra $15,000 annually and "mentor teachers" who would make an extra $7,000. They would train staff and help evaluate teachers for bonuses of up to $9,000 a year.
While I am not opposed to the idea of merit pay in principle, I think it is tinkering around the edges when it comes to schools with a high concentration of the disadvantaged. The academic underperformance at these schools is so severe that even "master teachers" (whatever that is) are unlikely to make much of a dent. At such schools the whole-class approach does not work. Students lack a minimal academic background, have dismal study habits and the highly behaviorally disordered form a critical mass that effectively shuts down instruction. What is needed is a type of Marshall Plan of small-group instruction that allows a more intense academic involvement under more manageable conditions.


rightwingprof said...

It seems that merit pay would be harder to do in primary and secondary schools than universities, simply because the former teaches year-long classes, while the latter teaches semester-long classes. Primary and secondary school teachers would need a longer time period for evaluation.

George said...

I have thought that it is only a matter of time before merit pay is the norm. The fact that one district is experimenting raises the radar a bit. For those of us who work in underachieving schools, I think we should already recieve additional pay. We put up with way more violence, anger, and low achievement, all of which are emotionally draining.

How right you are that the whole-class approach does not work for the lower performing students. I have experienced this disfunction myself. I have also experienced effective small group instruction with my most misbehaved.

The staff I work with is trying so hard to adapt to the students needs, and we see very few attempts by the students to reform themselves. The system needs to be modified, but not by doling out more money to people who are going to analyze my "poor" performance.