I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Merit Pay Fairy Lands In Jersey!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Rutgers University's newest mascot: the Merit Pay Fairy!
The best teachers in Asbury Park, Lakewood, Hillside and North Plainfield will be among the first in the state to earn federally financed merit pay, a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Education said.
In partnership with the four low-income districts, Rutgers University will distribute $39.7 million over five years through the department’s Teacher Innovation Fund to bolster educator recruitment, evaluation and rewards systems.
It is not yet known how much an individual district or teacher might receive.
No, of course not. Everyone's got to wet their beak before we actually get around to giving more money to teachers...

Every time I hear about another Merit Pay Fairy sighting, I want to ask the believers the same thing:

You folks say you want to reward great teachers, right? And you believe that every kid deserves a great teacher. Doesn't that mean you are calling for eventually raising the entire teacher payroll? If so, where are you going to get the money?

When Michelle Rhee started her very short, very unsuccessful stint in Washington D.C., she brought in corporate backers to fund her Merit Pay Fairy scheme. But when she got booted out of her job, they turned tail, leaving the district liable for the costs. How do we know that this scenario won't play out exactly the same way in Jersey? How do we know that several years from now these districts won't be left holding the bag?

Rhee's premise was that if she rewarded her "best" teachers, everyone would be motivated to perform better. What's idiotic about this notion is that if you cap the amount of merit pay, you cap the number of people who can earn it. How can everyone be motivated to do better if the reward is always limited to only a select few?

Of course, all of this is premised on the notion that we can objectively identify the "best" teachers; that we can accurately tell which teachers are in the 10% and eligible for rewards, and which teachers miss out because they're only in the top 11%. There is simply no accurate way to do that, which is why merit pay is ultimately demoralizing and divisive. It's why the Merit Pay Fairy remains a myth: merit pay has never worked in schools.

"But, but, but..." stammer the childish Merit Pay Fairy believers. "It wasn't the right kind of merit pay! We just have to tweak it a little more! Clap harder or the Merit Pay Fairy will die!"

In Finland, where adults make education policy, the barrier to entry in teaching is higher; the compensation for all teachers is also higher. If the Merit Pay Fairy's simpering followers really believed that creating a better teaching corps was so important, they'd follow that example.

The sad fact is, they don't. They want to throw a relatively small amount of money at a few teachers and claim they're supporting the profession. Like children, they close their little eyes and wish for magic to come in and "save" our schools. And they're very, very cross when adults tell them to grow up and join the real world.

Wait'll you see what my magic wand does against UConn next week!

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