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Ed Reform 101: Merit pay

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The term merit pay encompasses any school- or district-based salary plan that considers a teacher’s “merit” when determining his or her compensation each year. Merit pay is most often tied to teacher evaluations and student standardized-test scores. Teachers earning high marks in these areas receive more money; teachers scoring poorly receive less.

Traditionally, teacher salary systems have been based on a combination of seniority and educational attainment. Compensation increases as teachers become more experienced and obtain additional degrees. The most effective teacher in the school receives the same amount as another teacher with the same level of experience and education. Classroom performance and quality of instruction are entirely absent from salary determinations.

Proponents of merit pay believe the traditional system misallocates education funding. They argue school resources could be better spent if salary plans were designed to attract the most effective teachers while identifying poorly performing instructors. Proponents also believe that tying a teacher’s salary to classroom instruction and student success motivates the teacher to work harder, which will raise student achievement. The higher earning potential will also increase the number of people entering the profession thus reducing teacher shortages.

Opponents of merit pay are concerned the reformed system will result in unfair salary variances, encourage corruption and dishonesty in student testing, and diminish the collaborative atmosphere among educators. Additionally, the resources to conduct the requisite number of evaluations and offer required professional development to ineffective teachers may not be available, especially in low-income school districts. Further, merit pay systems could increase teacher shortages by driving teachers away from hard-to-teach subject areas or students.