Teamwork: who's on first? Who cares? AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
In mid-January, approximately half of Idaho school districts signed on to support the state’s application for federal funding from the new Race to the Top initiative. While it makes sense to apply for funds that could replace recent budget cuts, teachers in some Idaho districts claimed that the merit pay provision could undermine teamwork in their schools. Even though some of those district superintendents and school boards approved participation in the program, teachers, wary of signing anything that may commit them to potentially divisive funding, opted out for their districts.
You read that right: teachers chose to opt out of potentially receiving more money for their entire district because such a plan might hurt some people’s feelings.
Merit pay – incentives for increased student performance (read test scores) or for being highly qualified to teach in a field for which there are few teachers – should not hurt anyone’s feelings. Merit pay does not reduce anybody's salary – it only adds to the base pay for which teachers have already agreed to work. Teachers worry that someone’s receiving a bonus for having high-income or high-aptitude students in a particular year could undermine the cohesiveness of the entire faculty. Perhaps it could. But only if teachers are competitive with each other and not if they are, as they claim, working as a team.
Waiters and waitresses have long known that some customers tip more than others – it is simply luck whether a wait person will receive a customer with a high aptitude for tipping or a low ability in that area. Some restaurants have solved this potentially-volatile situation by having their wait staff pool tips. Why not do the same with merit pay?
If some teachers qualify for an incentive in a given year (sometimes thanks to the excellent teaching of a previous colleague whose results did not show up in students’ test scores until a year or two later), the bonus payments could be applied to an account which will be split by all teachers in that school at the end of the year. This way, all teachers in the school will be working toward creating the highest percentage of merit pay recipients possible; the resulting teamwork will raise performance levels for all students, and teachers, and teaching teams.
If teamwork and increased student performance are truly goals in our schools, then competition has no place in our thoughts or in our paychecks. Sharing merit pay incentives could help teachers help one another as they help their schools, their districts, and their students.
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Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
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