POSTED RESPONSE TO AN EDITORIAL IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL
Merit pay for teachers is a totally unworkable idea, and it is that for many reasons.
If you genuinely embrace the concept of merit pay - that is, better-than-average pay for excellent performance - you must, for logical and economic consistency, also embrace less-than-average pay for under-performing teachers.
Only in that way is there a genuine incentive for improved performance at all levels, and only in that way is there a genuine appraisal of performance at all levels.
Yet that part of the merit-pay idea is never discussed: we hear only about extra pay for superior performance. In effect, such a one-sided system would be bribery for favored teachers.
Extra pay for supposedly superior teachers is guaranteed under current arrangements to be nothing but a giveaway of billions to no genuine effect.
And try selling the idea of full-range merit pay to the teachers' union, the same organization which works day and night protecting the jobs of incompetent teachers almost the way the Catholic Church has protected its abusive priests.
And which of our generally spineless politicians would show the courage and tenacity for a fight with that monopoly organization? Imagine Dalton McGuinty standing up the teachers, a man who has done nothing but shovel money at them to keep his political peace?
And what is average performance? The way our public education is organized, it would be impossible to establish because teachers, once they are hired permanently, are never assessed. There are no meaningful measurements or standards.
You cannot use only student performance because some teachers are assigned to schools where families are successful and expect performance, providing encouragement and resources, while some teachers are assigned to schools where families are broken or unsuccessful, sometimes barely feeding their children and having no high expectations.
You cannot use the official curriculum as a standard against which to measure because it is pretty much a poor pile of generalities and frantic efforts to appear comprehensive rather than a specific set of measurable requirements.
Further, there is no qualified, experienced body of people to do the assessing. Once Ontario did have such people, but the concept of regular assessment died decades ago.
Moreover, our entire public education system is essentially run by teachers – perhaps its greatest source of weakness. Principals are generally just teachers who wanted out of the classroom. Superintendents and directors are just teachers again who’ve piled up lots of puff education courses – and truly there are few other kind at our colleges of education where academic standards are low.
There is no perspective in any of these officials beyond a kind of generalized public-school teacher perspective, and that gets us nowhere.
One assumes that the whole idea of merit pay is to increase the effectiveness of our schools. The only way to do that is to compete with world standards of performance, and we don’t do that with our present system. It will take far more than merit pay.