Great Scott! Florida Teachers Will Be Forced to Earn a Living

by Mike on March 17, 2011

in Economy,Education,Politics

The last few months haven’t been kind to thug teachers’ unions.  First, Wisconsin stripped their collective bargaining rights over the gold-plated benefits packages public school teachers receive.  Now, Florida Governor Rick Scott plans to sign recently-passed legislation instituting merit pay for public school teachers.  Under the plan, teacher salaries would be tied to student performance on a series of standardized tests.

I can already hear the unions and their supporters whining that the reform will force teachers to simply “teach to the test,” but is that really a bad thing?  Under the current system, teachers are paid based on the number of years they’ve been in a system regardless of what their students are learning before they are socially promoted.  So long as the standardized tests contain substantive questions about the fundamentals of English, Math, Science, and History, then teachers will be motivated to actually teach students the things they are in school to learn.

If the teachers teach well, then the students will learn and the teachers will earn.  If they don’t, then what use are they anyway?

Hat tip:  Cubachi

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan March 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm

I’m not a merit pay fan.

I’ve been in the public school system for a decade and have seen the good, bad, and a whole lot of ugly. I see many problems with merit pay, though. Firstly, I can’t choose my students (the guidance department is already politicized enough!). Also, I don’t have any input as to what is on the state standardized tests. In fact, I don’t teach a subject which is even tested at the state level! So, if applied in New Jersey, the AP/Honors teacher in Math and English would get merit pay IF their kids happen to be good test takers, but every other teacher might not be eligible or have to depend on those other teachers for their merit pay.

If somehow they found ways to give history teachers like me merit pay, I expect teacher-sharing of what works in their class will diminish as fear over losing a chance a more pay may get in the way.

Personally, I didn’t even score 1000 on my SATs when I was 16 but was in the 99th percentile on the national Praxis content area exam at age 22. Was I not a good student, though I graduated with a 3.5 GPA from high school? Did that reflect poorly on the high school education I received (at a renowned private Catholic high school by the way) or on those teachers who were so good they helped inspire me into the profession? Should those teachers have been ostensibly punished because I couldn’t take a standardized test well? I do not believe they should.

I just don’t see how merit pay will be a positive change in the end. It’s a private sector solution to a public sector problem. Fine, we generally need more of that, but if you want to punish bad teachers FIRE THEM! We all seem ready to beat up the unions (for great reasons), but mysteriously wimp out on this very important point. If it’s too hard to fire a bad teacher, it’s the district, the school board and the department chairs who are at fault for not doing their jobs. Plus, we already have enough grade inflation, endless re-takes, and standard-lowering so that districts can conform to contrived state expectations on scores. In NJ standardized tests have already become dishonest — our kids get their trophy but did not truly earn it; if too few pass, just lower the bar.

I’m just not a fan.


Mike March 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I think some of those concerns are misplaced.

Thank God you are a teacher that sees the need to fire bad teachers, but how can you fire a bad teacher without an objective method to measure performance? You can’t just rely on the grades teachers hand out; that would be like the public sector union employees grading themselves for pay. And you certainly can’t rely on a union member department head’s subjective evaluation. What kind of chilling effect would that have on dissent within a union?

You mention standardized tests and correctly point out that they are not a perfect indicator, and that’s true. Some of the better students test badly and some of the less capable students may test better. However, when the test taking population is evaluated as a whole, standardized tests are an excellent guide to measure performance. That’s why universities across the country, including private universities, use standardized tests (including SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT etc.) scores as a factor in the admissions process.

Standardized tests are not perfect. No objective standard is, but they’re also not the crap shoot you make them out to be. Otherwise, the use of those tests would not be anywhere near as widespread as they are.

You also raise the point about choosing your students. In the private sector, employees don’t choose their own assignments either. The investment banker with a newly printed MBA will not be assigned to the bank’s most important client’s most sophisticated transactions until he proves himself outside the context of academia. A first year computer programmer at a company probably isn’t going to assume responsibility for his company’s Fortune 500 anchor client’s multinational computer network. Not choosing your assignments is how the real world works. It will do our teachers good to learn that lesson.

You raise a good point (the same one I did) that the test itself can be poorly crafted. But that’s an argument for crafting a legitimate test, not that there shouldn’t be testing at all. Otherwise, you get stuck with a system where teachers get the same level of pay, from the taxpayers, regardless of results.

It’s about time that a state is going to force all teachers to earn a living. To your credit, you already do. Sadly, many in the profession do not.


Sal March 17, 2011 at 4:59 pm

It has been proven again and again throughout history that self interest is the primary motivator of individuals. People drive to succeed when they feel that there is a reward for their efforts. Firing teachers will weed out the bad apples, but what you will be left with is a few exceptional teachers (probably the same ones that exist now) along with a whole lot of just plain mediocre teachers. Without incentives, people, the vast majority of people tend to stagnate and never strive to improve themselves and their job performance.

To answer some of your other observations, I don’t get to choose my clients, the projects that I want to work on, or the people I have to work with. There are times when a customer is the biggest pain in the ass ever and even sometimes downright verbally abusive, but I still have to deal with that customer with a smile on my face.

I don’t just want to fire bad teachers (although that would be a good step). I want to reward the great teachers, and give the mediocre teachers something to strive for, so in the end we end up with a pool of educators, the vast majority of whom are far better than mediocre.


Matt March 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Overall, I think merit pay is a very good idea, but I can see a problem with rating teachers on raw test performance. Some of the better / more experienced teachers may be given students with learning disabilities, issues at home, etc more frequently because the principal realizes this teacher is better at handling these challenges than others. I think a more accurate measure of teacher performance would be their class’s improvement on a standardized test over the course of a year. I would give the students a test at the beginning of the year for a baseline, and then test again at the end of the year to compare. That comparison will be a much better measure of what the students actually learned from their teacher. I think this would keep teachers more motivated too. They won’t get discouraged if they start the year with a very challenging group, and they won’t be able to coast if they start with a very bright group.


Ryan March 19, 2011 at 7:39 am

As it stands right now, it generally goes that the teachers with the most experience get the students with the least amount of problems. The 25-30 year teachers tend to get the AP/Honors types while the newbies get the rough ones. I always found it counter-intuitive when hearing that some administrators would say things like: “_____ is a great teacher, so _____ should stay with the tough track of kids.” By that logic, the very experienced super-stars should get all the tough kids, right? But, no — they get the brainiacs whose biggest classroom issue is occasional “chattiness.” I do see, though, that getting the rough kids early in one’s career teaches the teacher quite a bit about classroom management, dealing with irate parents, and breaking content down in ways the kids can learn better. Nonetheless, lots of teaching experience gets wasted by moving the good ones to teach the kids who don’t need the aid which that experience could provide.


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