“Education cannot be improved by bribing teachers!” This is the slogan on Beth Glazer-Schettino’s petition on change.org, the popular website that allows users to promote their movements for social change. Glazer-Schettino, a schoolteacher from Huntington, N.Y., is urging her colleagues and the general public to join her in demanding that the New York State Legislature reject Gov. Cuomo’s latest proposal to address the educational deficiencies facing New York classrooms.
In his latest plan, titled the “Teacher Excellence Fund,” those teachers rated as “highly effective” in the most recent evaluations would be eligible to receive up to $20,000 in a one-time merit bonus. If the measure goes forward, it will be funded with $20 million in the coming year.
According to the proposal, the funds will go first to school districts that agree to pay top-rated teachers to fill struggling schools and teach core subject areas, or who persuade teachers to stay in the classroom instead of moving to other position.
In many ways, Glazer-Schettino’s point of view echoes that of the majority of her colleagues as well as educational policy experts. “The attempt to use money as a tool to improve situations out of our control is akin to trying to draw blood from a stone,” she said. “This proposal is irrational, irresponsible, and ineffective!”
While few specific details as to how the plan would work have been unveiled, it is clear that the effectiveness of the proposal is tenuous at best.
First, approximately half of all New York State teachers evaluated last year were rated as “highly effective.” Will this plan artificially increase the previous evaluation standards in an effort to make the program financially feasible and accommodate the over 77,000 public school teachers in the state?
Most teachers adamantly oppose any type of merit-based pay. It unfairly dilutes teachers’ bargaining power through their public-sector union and ties their pay to standardized testing.
The program will unfairly disadvantage teachers who work with students that are learning English or who have learning disabilities, as well as with students from low-income communities who typically underperform on standardized tests. The plan will likely draw teachers away from these classrooms, for schools in more affluent areas where students typically are better equipped to perform on standardized tests.
New York City schools implemented teacher merit pay in 2007, giving bonuses directly to schools to distribute to individual teachers. However, the program was quietly suspended in 2010 after a study found that merit-based pay had no effect on teacher quality or student achievement.
Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who reviewed New York City’s previous merit-based pay, said he found no evidence that teacher incentives increased student performance or teacher behavior and in fact found that they may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools.
Merit pay has consistently proven to be a failed policy throughout the country. Cities such as Nashville, Chicago and Houston have suspended their merit teacher pay, after spending millions of dollars, as the research has shown these incentive programs make no lasting improvement in student achievement.
While supporters of the plan argue that merit pay is commonplace in many industries and serves to optimize performance and results, the reality is that merit pay will foster an environment of competition among teachers in a profession that requires creativity and collaboration. Motivating students is a team effort that involves more than just core-subject teachers. Merit pay programs ignore the importance of music, art and sports programs in the holistic development of students. These programs help foster the stamina and critical thinking skills necessary to score well on standardized tests as well as to draw students away from drugs, pregnancy and violence. In short these programs are critical in developing engaged and well-rounded young adults. Merit pay would reward core-subject teachers while ignoring the contributions of all educators to the success of all students.