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Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Merits of Merit Pay

Ahhhhh.... merit pay.  Our governor (for whom I voted, by the way) would like to solve all the education problems in the state by transitioning the teachers over to a merit pay system.  I guess he watched "Oprah" the other day.

Well, since I actually studied this sort of thing in college and actually worked specifically in compensation in my prior life, I believe that I have a bit of insight into the topic.  Let's see if you can figure out where I stand on the issue.

I believe that if we are going to make the teachers subject to merit pay based on student performance because it promotes efficiency, we should do so for other areas of government as well.

Take the police.  A policeman's job is to maintain peace.  In fact, to quote Sheriff Gillespie "The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is committed to our mission to protect the community through prevention, partnership and professional service."   He does a nice job, by the way.  I do think, however, that using the governor's logic, the police should be held accountable by measuring their success.  Patrolman should be paid directly related to the crime rates in their area.  High crime rates = lower pay.  After all, it is their job to prevent crime.  If crime is occurring, then clearly they are not doing their jobs.  It shouldn't matter if there is a difference from area to area in economic stature, previous crime rate, drug influences- nope.  The good cops are keeping the crime rates down.  The areas with higher crime rates surely are the result of poor policing.  Sorry guys and gals.

Now on to the firemen.  Well, the Clark County Fire Department has taken a LOT of heat recently for a few people (okay 120) who were abusing a sick leave/call out glitch in the system.  So let's ditch the ol' collective bargaining agreement in its entirety, similar to the agreement with the teacher's union, and enforce a merit pay system for the fire department as well.  In 2009, according to city records, over $6.5 million of damage was the result of fires.  They should have to pay for that. Their job is clearly to prevent fires.  Someone must not have been doing their jobs.  Yes,  I know, like police officers, they could get killed fighting fires, but hey, they knew that coming in to the gig.  Let's base their pay on the number of fires- the higher the number, the lower the pay.  Again, I realize that fires are started for a variety of different reasons- bad wiring, accidents, meth lab explosions, but if they were doing their jobs- c'mon there is a fleet of inspectors- they should be able to prevent all of them.  No fire left behind.

My favorite change will be to the elected officials.  All elected officials- not their support staffs- will only get paid from excess funds from the government.  If they do their jobs and don't blow all our tax dollars, THEN they can get paid.   If we go into the red as a state, they should all personally have to write checks to cover it.  After all, it's their job to balance the budget.  No room for oopsy daisies in this administration.

So I think you can see where I stand on this issues.

Now, from my limited professional experience in administering merit based pay, let me tell you what happens.  The overwhelming majority of managers will give EVERYONE THE SAME RAISE.  Unless they don't like you, then they won't.  It creates an administrative nightmare.  And it does squat for morale. The average positive impact of a raise or bonus is something like 30 days.  Besides, most people don't know how well they compare against everyone else.  You might be pissed to get a 3% raise, only to find out that everyone else got 1%.  Woo hoo 2%.  Now THERE's an incentive to soar like an eagle.

There are only three true merit pay systems and I am happy to have experienced them all. 
#1- Own a business.  You get to keep what's left at the end of the day.  The smarter you work, the more you make.  I own a business.  I get to keep net profits.  Sometimes that's not a big number.  When it isn't, I get off my duff and work a little harder.

#2- Work on straight commission.  The more you make/sell/do the more you earn.

#3- Work for tips.  The more you hustle, the more you make. I loved waiting tables and working the bar.  I made a crap load of money.  I didn't take 30 smoke breaks.  I had a little zip in my step.  I smiled.  This irritated my co-workers.  I didn't care. I figured it was my job, I should do it well.  It also paid for college.   I don't have to wait tables any more.

Now the unique circumstance in all three of the above is that as a worker, you control the environment to some degree (selling crappy products or bad food aside).

As a teacher,  you can't control the environment (same with a police officer or firefighter).  You're given a curriculum to follow, a textbook to use and we'll stop in twice a year to check on you. The students are given to you as they are, with all the baggage of the past strapped to them.  You get a few minutes a day to interact, if you're a high school teacher.  You get a few hours to interact, if you're an elementary teacher.  You can't fix everything.  And by the way, it's not their job.  Issues like nutrition, sleep, study environment all play a huge role in ensuring a student's success- in other words, the PARENTS.

If  a child is in 7th grade and can't read, rather than pay the 7th grade English teacher less, how about we raise the parents' taxes?  This money could be used to reimburse the school for the money they wasted on the child in grades 1-6. 

If a kid is fat, it's not the school cafeteria.  Your child eats 915 meals a year at home and 180 at school.  Got a problem with school lunches?  Pack a lunch.  Your kid won't eat a packed lunch?  I guess they get hungry.

The problem with education in the United States isn't the teachers - sorry Oprah.  Yes, there are some bad teachers.  And bad doctors.  And bad hair stylists.  Most teachers are pretty good people doing the best the can in a bad situation.  The problem with education is the parents.  They aren't getting involved.  They aren't holding their children accountable.  They aren't doing their jobs as parents.  When parents parent, kids achieve.  It's not the school's job to raise your child.  

And yes, I'm married to a teacher.  I am married to a spectacular teacher who is beloved by his students, wins awards and puts his heart and soul into his job- regardless of his pay.  He didn't go into teaching to make millions, he did it because it's his passion.  Randomly changing his pay from year to year, based on a supervisor who watches him 2 times a year, is a joke.  Getting his classroom size down so that every student has a desk, would have a much bigger impact.

The following blog has an essay that was circulated about "No Tooth Left Behind" which applies the same ridiculous standards that are set in the No Child Left Behind act to dentists. I love this. I think it clearly illustrates the issues that teachers are facing today.

So this is what's in the bubble over my head tonight.   I hope the governor rethinks his plan.  He's in a bad position- there's no money and a bunch of people with their hands out.  He has my sympathy.  I just wish that for ONCE someone would think something through and do a little research.

Discuss amongst yourselves.


Rita said...

I am convinced we may have been twins separated at birth. I raised my hand when I got the chance be at the live taping of Oprah's education show, this is largely what I wanted to, sometimes I can get a little carried away on the topic, as it is a passion of mine as well and then there may have been bail involved and I probably wouldn't have been invited to another live taping... Seems nobody really wants to say a lot of parents are doing a bad job...I know things are tough, you have to work, you're doing it alone, you lost your job, the other parents you know are doing the same thing, money sucks... We need educated parents.... Well, here I go and since I need to get my kids off to school (a private one because our public school is more than a mess) and then have to go to work to pay for said private school....

Meghan said...

Excellent thoughts!!

Vic said...

Wow - I think you have nothing to fear if you need to find another line of work, little miss authoresse. Great post!

Tory K said...

I agree with most of your points.
Especially about the role of parents as well as teaching kids some discipline.

It drives me nuts to know that in most public high school, kids can basically tell the teacher to go &!@ themselves with impunity.

It would be great if the parents got zapped with a bill when their kids lag behind (due to apathy, not abilities)

The inverse of that theory is that report that recently came out that said Catholic school HS kids outperform public school kids. Could it be because the parents invested thousands of dollars a year and won't let their kids waste it? (that's thousands on top of the other thousand that they pay in taxes to public schools)

Bottom line, the problem is complex. Parents are more aloof because both of them work insane hours to pursue the almighty dollar and have "things" I miss the simpler days.

Christine said...

We have that here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth school districts and let me tell you, everyone I know complains about it. My kids aren't in school yet, but I hope it changes before they get there. They say all the teachers do is teach what's on these standardized tests so that the kids will all pass and their schools will look good and get more money. The kids only study and learn what's on the tests and don't get to explore other topics. They take these tests in certain grades and its those years that are the worst. Personally I think they need to get rid of those tests and let the teachers TEACH! My dad is/was a teacher until he got pushed out to make room for younger (lower paid teachers). He taught each student what he or she needed to know for the real world based on their ability/skills and took his own time to help any student that asked or needed extra help without forcing them to learn only questions and answers on a standardized test. Teachers need to be paid more if we want to keep good teachers. We need good teachers if we want our future generations to be intelligent, free thinking problem solvers instead of just people that have managed to memorize answers to a standardized test.