Merit Pay for Teachers

cross-posted in In Practice.

I’m not opposed to the theoretical idea of merit pay. However, I have not read of any fair plan to address who would earn it. I have the following concerns…

Having worked with several principals, I have found that all of them tend to have favorites on staff. I would not want my pay to be determined based on how a principal personally feels about me. I also would not want my pay decided on by a single test or even multiple standardized tests that may not measure what I am teaching in class. Even though I’ve worked at low-income schools throughout my career, I have good friends who work at high performing schools and they don’t have it any easier than I do even though the pressures of working where they teach are of a different kind. I don’t think that time spent working is a fair indicator of how much a teacher should be paid since it seems to me that some teachers spend their whole summer working at school but doing little to do with instruction. Should teachers who are the most organized and spend less time working after school not get bonuses?

It seems to me that even the worst teachers want their students to do well. It’s not as if they’d teach better if only they were paid a bonus. In places where students aren’t learning it seems it’s because teachers don’t know how to do better rather than because they don’t want to do better.

Finally, in a field where we already make less than similarly educated peers in private industry, I wonder if not being able to count on a particular income would be enough to discourage promising people from entering or staying in the profession.

Your thoughts?

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20 Responses to “Merit Pay for Teachers”

  1. teach5 Says:

    I agree, I haven’t had an administrator yet, who didn’t have favorites and who was favorite had little to do with what kind of teacher they were. In our district, they did try compensating teachers at “at-risk” schools by crediting them a 5th of a year towards retirement for every year they taught there. They were getting a lot of transiency at the at-risk schools. One of the very first things they cut when money got tight. Their answer to slowing down transfers was to lock you in for two years every time you transfer. Doesn’t cost nearly as much.

  2. Jonathan Ferrell Says:

    Thank you for bring up an intriguing topic!

    “It seems to me that even the worst teachers want their students to do well. It’s not as if they’d teach better if only they were paid a bonus.”

    I think I have to disagree here. If you look at how the world works nearly everyone is motivated to work harder when there is a financial incentive. Most teachers do want their students to do well I agree. But, I think most teachers would do more if there were more than just intrinsic motivation waiting for them on the other side.

    Now, the fair way to implement an incentive pay program? That is a great question that I am still mulling over. But, I am very sure it would lead to better teaching!

  3. Mathew Says:


    While it’s true that positive reinforcement works, I believe it only works if it’s tied to a specific task. (The dog sits, it gets a Scooby snack). When it comes to teaching, I don’t think anyone’s quite clear what we want teachers to do to raise student achievement. If you read a book like “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” by Rafe Equith, it is clear that one thing that works is more instructional time. If we agree that more instructional time works, then why not pay teachers for a longer school day?

  4. Jonathan Ferrell Says:


    I think you bring up a good point. Mr. Esquith\’s books do portray a teacher with great passion and make a good argument for a longer school day. I would support a program like that.

    I think it boils down to I think there are many teachers that could do so much more than they do with their students. But, since they are protected from being fired or even observed more than once or twice a year they do their job half way. Maybe some type of merit pay would highlight the difference between teachers who are striving for student growth and those who are just collecting a paycheck.

    Something in the system needs to reward teachers for their achievement. Not just how long they have avoided being fired.

  5. Merit Pay for Teachers | In Practice Says:

    […] cross-posted at Creating Lifelong Learners […]

  6. Obama, taking on unions, backs teacher merit pay (AP) — But As For Me Says:

    […] Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » Merit Pay for Teachers […]

  7. Sarah Says:

    I’m not opposed to the idea of merit pay. However, the idea that merit pay or increased salaries is correlated with improved academic achievement is false. If it were true, wouldn’t schools with higher average salaries do better than schools with lower average salaries? As a school psychologist, I get to work in a lot of different school districts. In my opinion, the leadership in the school has much more to do with improved academic achievement. Too often, our schools suffer or don’t make progress due to ineffective leaders who will not or can not motivate teachers or make necessary changes. I have watched motivated and innovative teachers wither and leave districts where there is little support. I have also watched teachers who were ‘just doing what they had to’ blossom when they were supported by real educational leaders.

  8. Jill Says:

    I agree about the issues of measurement. That is the hardest part to reconcile when it comes to how to fairly measure growth and improvements between students. But I have place to start– how about Merit Parenting! How many schools would drastically improve if some/many parents just cared more about making sure their child is ready, on time and prepared for school each day?

  9. Patrick Malley Says:

    I’ve gotta agree with Sarah above. There is no causal connection between increased teacher pay and student learning. Why not take that money and invest it in teacher professional development?

  10. Delaine Zody Says:

    It is very disheartening to see teachers who come at the bell in the morning and beat the kids to the parking lot getting the same pay as those of us who are working so hard to keep our kids engaged and raising test scores. I am working with one who for 25 years has just slid by in our district and continues to do so now. No one is requiring any changes.

  11. Mathew Says:


    I must confess my bias here. There are days when I stay late after school and I’ve never missed a talent show, a literacy night, a science fair (all unpaid activities). However, I frequently leave soon after the bell. I spend a lot of my time at home writing about education, compiling resources, and planning for the school day. I am sure there are people who just go home at the end of the day and never think about school but because of the way I structure my own day and my system of organization, I don’t necessarily equate teachers staying late at school with greater merit…particularly after witnessing teachers in some schools spend their summer cleaning their classroom closets.

  12. Patrick Malley Says:


    I’m sure there are characteristics of this teacher that you’re not sharing, because I’m sure there are plenty of good teachers who leave early to pick up kids from daycare, work from the comfort of their home, etc.

    Why don’t we increase the pay of all teachers, then kick out the ones who aren’t doing their job.

  13. Delaine Zody Says:

    Ah, yes, the teachers who come late and leave early are the ones whose classes are not engaging students. Sure, we all leave early some days. I was out of here at 3:10 yesterday and will try to do so today (but probably not because I have a parent conf at 2:45).

    Teaching is an interesting profession in that we are always working (or so it seems to me). Like you, Matthew, I am preparing at home morning and evening. I set aside every Sunday afternoon to enter grades and get ready for the next week. Yesterday, I heard some of my seniors grumbling about teachers who have not updated grades since February. “Not like Mrs. Zody, she puts our grades in every day.” Well, not quite, but it was nice to hear some appreciation.

  14. Ken Allan Says:

    Kia ora Mathew

    I don’t think it is possible to give merit pay with any degree of equity associated with how it is apportioned. But having an across-the-board pay scheme that does not take into account teaching circumstances isn’t either.

    Some education authorities award special allowances as they see fit, according to living costs related to a region in order, in some measure, to attract teachers to that region. London is such an area, for instance. But this, of course, is not a merit payment.

    I wonder why the idea persists though, considering how many decades such merit award schemes for teachers have been discussed. And if award scheme eventuated, would the merit award be of a sufficient amount to provide what’s sought, whether it be as an incentive to better teaching, as an attraction for good teachers or whatever.

    Teachers tend to do a lot of navel gazing when it comes to this topic. I think there’s need for a bit of comparing to rationalise whether merit pay is appropriate in the first place.

    I have a list of questions associated with this. I don’t have any answers, but the questions may provide some perspective to the whole idea of merit pay:

    What merit award schemes exist within other like professions?

    Where merit award schemes exist, how are they administered?

    And by what portion of the normalised pay rate is the award calculated and apportioned?

    And according to what criteria?

    And to what extent are such schemes considered successful in lifting the quality of practice?

    Catchya later

  15. Brooks Says:

    It might be helpful to see Debatepedia’s comprehensive pro/con breakdown of the merit pay for teachers debate. It quotes from this article too, on the favoritism argument.

    Home page:!

  16. Teacher World Says:

    Who can really claim to have the formula for what makes an excellent teacher? There are so many factors, and the term is so nebulous that there is no way to adequately or fairly make this evaluation. It’s not about when you arrive at school or how long you stay, which events you attend to support your children, what projects you come up with, or how your students scored on state achievement tests, and it’s not about how young your are or how long you’ve been teaching. It’s about whether you are motivating your students to learn. Do you make learning exciting and fun? Do you enjoy what you do, and is that clear to your students? Do you adequately evaluate work performance and provide intervention when needed? Do you promptly and professionally deal with parents? Are you open to change and willing to be an on-going learner? Do you collaborate with your fellow teachers and work with them as a team? Do your state standards and benchmarks guide your teaching? And the list could go on and on.

    Let’s be real. What kind of evaluation process can be created to evaluate teachers in all these areas and more to determine who deserves merit pay? This is why I adamently oppose merit pay. Because really, if you are doing all of the things mentioned above, do you do it in the hopes of earning merit pay or because you are just a good teacher?

  17. dkzody Says:

    Just returned to these postings and found Teacher World’s last remark. Yes, there are many factors that make an excellent teacher, just as there are many areas of performance where any employee must do well, regardless of the industry. How well does your product function is a big question for me. I can take very rough sophomores, work with them for a couple of years, and end up with some of the best students on campus. I’ve had people say, “you get the best kids, that’s why you do so well.” No, I get the regular kid and work very hard, with a team of teachers, to produce and good finished product. Good test scores, good grades, good attendance, and most of them go to college. So, I would very much like to get merit pay for all the work I do.

  18. Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » What Value Do Teachers Add to A Classroom? Says:

    […] Although I would concede using the database in part to evaluate teacher effectiveness, largely to cave in to public demand and the Bush-Obama education policies, I would not support paying teachers based on their test scores based on data that has shown it’s ineffective and other reasons I’ve already stated. […]

  19. Nik Bramblett Says:

    Even if standardized tests accurately measured student performance (which they don’t), it would still be ludicrous to base teacher compensation on them. LEARNING involves much more than TEACHING, and frankly, a lot of the other things that are involved are far outside a teacher’s control.

    Here’s an “in a nutshell” kind of typology that might help explain it to naysayers (I know the vast majority of teachers like visual aids– use this one freely! Well, ‘fair use’ly anyway LOL)

  20. My Current Thoughts on Teacher Evaluation | Creating Lifelong Learners Says:

    […] in the press for my thoughts on teacher evaluation, probably because of my previous posts on Merit Pay (I’m not for it)  and the Value that Teachers Add to the Classroom (hint, it’s more […]

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