Merit- based pay is defined as “linking some portion of teacher’s pay to the academic achievement of their students” (Levin, 2011). Students’ academic success is partially attributed to the dedication of an educator; the educator might stay at school past regular school hours to help students in need to ensure their achievement. However, in a seniority-based pay system, salary is determined by an employee’s tenure with an organization not by student performance (Shaw, J. D., & Gupta, N., 2007). In the former pay system, a dedicated educator will get paid more than a non-dedicated educator because the students of the dedicated educator scored better on standardized tests. In the latter pay system, a deplorable veteran educator will get paid more than a dedicated educator because s/he has been with the organization longer and is on a tenure track. In the current system, 95 percent of public school educators in the United States are paid on the basis of seniority (Barnett and Ritter, 2008). However, as a sociologist interested in education, I wondered if seniority based pay is fair to teachers, especially the dedicated?
Many proponents of the merit pay system contend that the system will be used, “as a tool to recruit and hold on to effective teachers” (Barnett and Ritter, 2008). Barnett and Ritter explains that the system will (1) motivate current teachers to find novel ways to both efficiently and effectively increase student achievement on standardized tests, (2) draw more talented and confident candidates into the field because they believe they are capable to raise student achievement on standardized tests. Lastly, (3) with bonuses given to effective teachers the ineffective teachers are demotivated and leave the industry.
The opponents of Merit based pay (including the njea) believe that merit pay system is an, “unproven step in the wrong direction…” (njea.org, 2011); they argue that most (two thirds) of the factors contributing to student’s achievement on tests are “outside of the classroom” (njea.org, 2011), and therefore are not in the teachers control. Furthermore, the NJEA argues that if merit pay were to be implemented across the board, teachers will be more focused on test preparation than actual teaching; their quality of instruction and their relationship with students will greatly diminish. Merit based pay system would prove to be pernicious to the students because in order to succeed in school both students and teachers need to work together to find a solution to a problem (Levin, 2011).
I believe there is no right or wrong answer to this issue because the issue of pay in the public education system depends solely on each districts needs. For example, merit based pay would work in inner city school districts, like Newark, because students in inner city schools tend not to perform as well as those in well to do neighborhoods. According to Economix, a blog featured on the New York Times, those in inner city schools tend to earn less that of their counterparts and thus do less well on standardized tests. Let’s take Newark, for example, the median income per household from 2008-2012 is $34,387 (quickfacts.census.gov), based on the data gathered from the College Board [the people who create tests, such as SAT], the Economix believes that Newark students will earn roughly a 462 on Critical Reading and a 475 on Math (economix.blogs.nytimes.com).Compare this with a well to do neighborhood, like short hills where the median income range from 2008-2012 is $235,799 (quickfacts.census.gov). Based on the same data, Short Hills Students will score a 563 on Critical Reading and a 579 on Math. In that case merit pay or seniority pay makes no difference because scores on tests are already high.
Now, how does inner cities benefit from merit pay, you might wonder? Merit based pay will motivate current teachers to find novel ways to increase student achievement on standardized tests, draw more talented and confident candidates into the field because they believe they are capable to raise student achievement on standardized tests, and bonuses are given to effective teachers. If implemented in inner city schools effective, talented, and motivated by incentive, will do their best to raise students scores up. A previous study done in Little Rock proves this to be true. An evaluation after the first two years of the study showed that schools implementing merit based pay in ethnic minority schools (some students qualified for free and price- reduced lunches) “achieved average gains of approximately seven percentile points for students in mathematics and reading” (Barnett and Ritter, 2008) . Scores of students in the schools with merit pay improved, whereas those of students in other schools did not.