Friday, January 07, 2005

Merit pay for teachers?

Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the former chairman of IBM (and organizer of The Teaching Commission website) argues for merit pay for teachers.
A merit pay system can be built fairly to give the most to teachers who produce the biggest annual academic improvement, and to factor in a wide variety of measurements of excellence, including peer and principal review.
Does anyone know of any effective evaluation system for people who provide services? There may be one, but I don't know of any.

When I was going through a divorce, I wanted an evaluation system for lawyers. Some lawyers are quite good; others not so good. But where is the table that rates them? I couldn't find one. The same is true for doctors. Where is the evaluation system for doctors?

In both of these cases, there are market mechanisms that reward doctors and lawyers who are good at marketing themselves. But that's not the same. Also, we are talking about an internal mechanism, and one that must be applied by school boards in a somewhat mechanical way.

Most organizations that hire people have evaluation procedures. I imagine that HMO's evaluate their doctors and that law firms evaluate their lawyers. But I don't know of any evaluation process that is as mechanical as the term merit pay suggests. And there are good reasons for that. Any mechanical evaluation becomes a driver rather than an evaluator. Once you set up a system to evaluate people, the people being evaluated will manipulate the data being fed into the system to make themselves look as good as possible. That's just the way the world works.

Besides, organizations that offer services should be required as their first priority to establish and maintain a level of competent service. That's what we expect from HMO's — that every doctor is competent, not that there are some superstar doctors and some incompetent doctors. The same should be the case for teachers: every teacher should be competent, and schools should be run in such a way that every student gets a good education from every teacher. This has little to do with superstars.

Of course there will be some extra good teachers, just as there are some extra good doctors. And they should be recognized and rewarded. Furthermore, since teaching and learning are so individual, different students are likely to find different teachers inspiring. But that is a second priority. The first priority of any service-providing organization is to provide the service they offer at a level of competency no matter which of their employees is involved in providing the particular instance of the service.

1 comment:

Teachers said...

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