One of the hot topics in education as of late is the seemingly inevitable establishment of "performance-based" pay. In my preparation for this post I came across a well put-together article that shows a balanced view of this topic: Pay for Performance: What are the Issues? (written by Ellen R. Delisio). I then compared what I had read to my current situation (a situation I have been frustrated with for the entire semester).
Here is what I see as a challenge in creating a perfomance-based incentive program in education--sometimes the silliest "performances" are measured and then the entire system can become a joke rather than a catalyst to move teachers toward better teaching practices. Let me give you some examples from my experience, because I think the point will be quickly seen through them.
In my current teaching situation I am a part of what is called the "Earning Excellence: Incentive Program for Teachers". I have no choice about my involvement in the program, even though the name would likely lend one to think of it in that way. All teachers are given a list of activities that must be done to earn points toward a letter grade in their grade book. (Yes, each week I get an email giving me a letter grade for my progress as a teacher.) Which, if it were based on actual teacher performance in the classroom, and was included with some thought-provoking comments or helpful advise, I think I would be all about it. Rather, the weekly grades are based on whether a teacher attends the faculty meeting and answers a one question quiz following the meeting. Often times, the question is simply, Did you attend the meeting today? Which seems hardly worth my time, incredibly impersonal and shining as a hoop to jump through, not an incentive for becoming a better teacher. Other ways to earn points in this program include posting all assignments a week prior to the upcoming class (and a few other deadline related postings), turning in receipts for stipends, and then simply being present in your classroom at the of your class (No evaluation of what is being taught is done. The department head simply signs in to class, unannounced, checks to see that you are having class and signs out.). Because these point earning performances seem so far removed from my actual instruction, I have a hard time taking the entire program seriously. Instead, I feel like I am in middle school and having to do busy work to avoid getting a letter sent home with a horrifying letter grade displaying my worth as a student. To be fair, self and advisor evaluations are a part of the incentive program (that earns you $25 at Amazon and your name entered into a drawing for more gifts cards), but they only make up a small portion of the points and a grade is not given out for them, simply, "A" if you do it, and "F" if you don't.
Delisio, in her article points out that some of the issues with teacher merit pay are, making the evaluation objective, the process worthwhile and the incentives based on actual performance. But coming up with a system that meets all these requirements takes time and money, both commodities that most administrators and school districts don't have. And in the end, will it all be worth it, or will teachers find themselves feeling like students being handed a report card each grading period -- feeling less professional, rather than more professional? That is definitely what I am experiencing. Granted, the system that has been designed to be an incentive is clearly flawed, but is it really reasonable to believe there will be a system that will not be flawed? What if the culture simply saw us as professionals because we are professionals. We have earned our professional title through degrees, and continued education standards already required by the licensers in our states. Is it really necessary to stack more on top of this to encourage teachers to "perform" at a higher level?
I don't think so. I think what would make the biggest difference in teacher motivation would be if our profession wasn't the spotlight for political and government debate. If teachers were seen as professional enough to govern the systems that are used to both educate students and teachers. And if the stigma of the teaching profession was one of honor and gratitude. If we got paid more, great! But I think most of us would agree that appreciation for and recognition of our value in the society would likely have a greater return than investing time and money in an evaluation system that will no doubt have flaws and blind-spots.
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.