Merit Pay for Teachers: A Good Idea in a Flawed Education System

Since I began researching politics, I have been a strong supporter of the merit pay system for teachers. Not only have I supported it, but I’ve defended it and fought for it. Unfortunately as school ended last month, I began to see what I believe may be a major flaw in the idea. On the surface it sounds as if it makes sense; pay teachers on a merit system based on their performance. But as is often the case, real life may have uncovered a glitch, and I believe there’s a possibility it may not work in our public schools as they are structured now. Here’s why:

Many of you may have read my first article for FreedomWorks detailing negative attention from teachers because of my political views. When the article was posted, I was still in two classes with teachers mentioned in the piece. The school and I decided I would switch English classes after the article was posted to make sure there were no further issues with the teacher in question. 

Within the first week of switching, I realized how much more my new English teacher challenged the class as compared to the previous one, even though both teachers were supposed to be teaching the same curriculum. I was perfectly fine with the difference in teaching style until our final exams were taken and grades were released. As it turned out, my previous English teacher didn’t have a final exam and only graded one assignment for the fourth quarter of the school year. In my new English class, we had dozens of assignments and a very challenging final exam. So what’s the problem? In my previous class, grades were extremely high due to the lack of work the students were given. For my new class, overall grades and final grades were much lower as the expectations were higher. 

As a student, I learned and was challenged more in the new class. In fact, my grade dropped 5 percent. Unfortunately, the teacher that taught me and challenged me more would get paid less under the merit based pay system, even though she was the teacher who was actually better preparing her students.  

I don’t have a solution to this problem, but it is something that needs to be addressed. The idea of merit pay is a great one, much better than seniority or tenure, but it has some major flaws. If a teacher is doing their job, the student will enjoy being in the class, will learn, be challenged and be well equipped for the future.

Teachers have a tough job, and those that do it well should be rewarded and paid accordingly.  We should neither encourage teachers, nor students to do less and receive more. The current grading structure and pay structure unfortunately does both.