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To become a doctor, you have to go to school. To become a lawyer, or an engineer, or an accountant…you have to go to school!
And without teachers, we wouldn’t have our doctors or our lawyers, our accountants or our engineers, or even our other teachers. Many people fail to realize that teachers have quite possibly the most important job – they teach our future; they provide the foundation for our further education.
A teacher’s job is just as difficult as it is important.
Many teachers who teach in lower class schools often feel threatened by their own students. Educators have one of the most underappreciated professions, and the lack of compensation mixed with the difficulties of the job has significant negative impacts on teacher retention as well as teacher satisfaction. While the low salary may not have much of a negative impact on student performance, an increase in pay (or a different compensation system altogether) could have significant positive impacts on students and teachers alike.
Regardless of how well teachers do their jobs, their pay remains at a significantly low constant, considering the importance of the profession, and there are little to no opportunities for promotions or raises, making the teaching profession a highly discouraged career choice.
In a Jefferson Parish school system, a teacher whose students get bad test scores and a teacher whose students get excellent test scores will both make around $43,000 a year. All teachers, no matter how well they teach, get paid the same, and it negatively impacts all parties involved.
And while many studies may seem to prove that there is no correlation between teacher compensation and student performance, this is actually incorrect, only because these previous studies have been looking in the wrong places. There’s no doubt that increasing teacher salaries across the board would not have any improvement on student achievement; in fact, we would likely see a decline. This is because a concrete raise would do nothing to filter out the underperforming teachers, and would only benefit the lives of the educators. However, a Merit Pay program could have enormous benefits, not just to the teachers, but to the education system as a whole.
In an effort to stop the decline in the number of qualified teachers, the education compensation system needs to be completely refurbished. A merit pay program would redefine teachers’ salaries based on their evaluations, performance in the classroom, student test scores, and overall student improvement. With a program like this, we would see many improvements, including increased teacher retention, an improvement to student performance, etc. The bottom line is, compensation is a big factor of the equation. With more pay, teachers will be much more willing to go above and beyond the status quo. And while finding the means necessary for this kind of a program may seem impossible, it’s actually easily attainable. According to the Granite Falls school district, “when a school district places a levy measure before voters, it is asking for the authority to collect a specific amount of money from local property taxes for a set period of time… Levies are approved if the ballot measure receives support from a majority of voters.”
To visualize this plan, it’s essential to know how this levy would impact us as taxpayers, and to do this, we need to look at what others have done in the past. The Broward County school system in Florida almost got their teachers a 6% raise earlier this year by increasing the property tax (Solomon 2018). The property tax rate is measured by a percentage that one has to pay for every $1,000 of assessed property value, and a school levy adjusts that by adding on a designated amount of money to that tax; this tax increase would take in an additional fifty cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value (Solomon 2018). So, theoretically, if you are a homeowner and your home is worth $225,000, you would only have to pay about $112 more in property tax a year (which is only $9 more a month) (Solomon 2018). However, for the plan in question, a 6% raise is nothing in the long run.
If the state was to take in an additional $2 for every $1,000 of assessed property value (rather than fifty cents), the total amount of money collected could make the raise as high as about 25%! And the additional $2/$1,000 would only add about $37 a month to the aforementioned example. As crazy as it sounds, a significant raise for our educators is not so far fetched. However, as I previously mentioned, the salary increase would not be concrete, meaning in theory, some teachers could get higher than a 25% raise. The money would assumedly be divvied up by the state and the school boards, and after each teacher has been sufficiently assessed, raises varying in amount (determined by performance) would be given to all staff. However, in order to successfully acquire these funds, it is crucial that school districts properly advertise the reasons for the tax increase, and why voters should vote “yes” for the program.
Now as perfect as this may sound, there are reasons of course as to why it hasn’t been brought to action. Every plan has both pros and cons, and on the surface, a merit pay program for teachers has more than a few cons. Nevertheless, it is my plan to counter as many of those cons with an alternative pro.
The first problem I’ll cover is the largely shared concern that this kind of a program will pit teachers against each other and create competition. Many educators believe that if there is a “fixed pool” of money available for the program and its raises then teachers will feel less inclined to help each other succeed, because, after all, it would be taking away from their own money. “Of course, it may be possible to devise a merit pay plan that rewards collaboration, but whenever output is jointly produced, as education is, it is difficult to distinguish between individual levels of attainment,” (Gius 2012, 94-95). While creating a fair plan isn’t going to be easy, it’s certainly doable. It’ll take time, but the program could be devised to encourage collaboration. Another argument against this program is one that we’ve already seen, and have already addressed. A lot of people (mostly educators) believe that the expectations set in place by merit pay would have teachers “jump through the right hoops” so to speak.
Coincidentally, Common Core already has them doing this, according to the article “Pros and Cons of Merit Pay for Teachers.” Having already been sufficiently addressed in the current educational climate, the best solution to this would just be to set those “hoops” closer related to student development, and as a teacher to try and “decorate” your hoops as best as you can (AKA be as creative as you can in your lesson plans). Now, one of the most controversial problems with a compensation system that relies on student/teacher performance is that this program begs the question: “what about the ‘problem’ kids?”
Many teachers would not want to teach students labelled as “problem” students because such students would affect their scores and subsequently affect their salaries. While this may be true in reference to merit pay programs that have been previously discussed, none of these programs have thought about the bigger picture. If the program additionally relied on student improvement, rather than just student achievement, then teachers would just have to worry about helping such “problem” students improve. “The key to an effective teacher salary program must be funding that follows those who improve student performance,” (Hanushek 2007, 581). It would be ideal for this plan to be formulated by educators who are informed on the many “problems” in the profession, and may have ideas to combat the issues. A teacher’s job can never be easy, but we can certainly help to make it more doable. Likewise, a plan can never be 100% perfect, but as problem solvers we can try our best to make the pros outweigh the cons.
On the topic of cons, it may be noticed that a lot of the arguers against the plan seem to be educators (alongside taxpayers of course). This is true, however it isn’t exactly as it seems. Most of the teachers that are against this plan have been teaching for 10+ years. While this may not seem very significant, the current educational compensation system favors tenured teachers (or rather teachers with more years of experience) rather than the better performing teachers. “With [the current] compensation system, a teacher’s pay is based upon only two factors: years of experience and level of education,” (Gius 2012, 93). These tenured teachers feel that the implementation of this plan would hurt their salaries, and are therefore, at the very least, hesitant to jump on board. However, the very purpose of a merit pay program is to reward the good and weed out the bad; some of these “experienced” teachers perform very sub-par work, yet expect to get paid more just because they’ve been working for longer. The hope is that in future years that mindset will be abolished. “Jones (2013) determined teachers who are entering the field of education are more receptive to merit pay programs and predicted as older teachers retire, the idea of merit pay will become more accepted in education,” (Hall 2017, 39-40).
One of the reasons we have been unsuccessful in passing a merit pay program is that districts are not advertising to the right people. Taxpayers who send their kids to private schools are not going to vote yes for a program that doesn’t affect them. In order to get this plan approved, school districts need to be sending their message to the right audience. The acceptance of this program could quite possibly change the profession altogether. The lower the wage, the fewer contenders we’ll have in future years, and the quality of education will plummet. If teachers are respected and provided for, it will boost education and benefit the whole country; with the right foundation, more students may be inspired to pursue greater career fields, such as technology, law, or medicine. With the implementation of merit pay, the more successful and impactful teachers could be making earnings on a level closer to that of a lawyer or an accountant! The popularity of the teaching career would skyrocket, and the percentage of underperforming teachers (over time) would be significantly reduced, highlighting probably the greatest advantage of a merit pay program for both primary and secondary school teachers.
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