Additionally, I believe there is more of a fundamental problem with the “merit pay” philosophy in education. When you think about it, offering tangible rewards is not that different from the motivation techniques we teachers often use with our students – rewarding them with stickers, recess, parties, etc. for good behavior and good grades. Yet any teacher will tell you they would rather have internally-motivated students than externally-motivated ones. This means we would rather have students who are motivated by internal factors (a drive to do well, personal growth, etc.) instead of students that need to be motivated by tangible rewards. Students that are internally motivated are more successful in the long run.
The same goes for teachers. Do we really want the teachers who are only motivated by extrinsic factors like bonuses (“Well, I wasn’t doing my best teaching before, but now that I can get some more money…”)? Shouldn’t these be the teachers we want to get rid of? The big problem is that many of these “reformers” continue to look at education like big business. Good teachers, instead, should be viewed like entrepreneurs. They do what they love, and are invested in each of their students. Each day they put everything they can into their job, and their students’ success is their success. Instead of monetary bonuses, rewards for good teachers need to be built into the system. More control and say in how the school is run, the chance to take on leadership roles within the school, and ongoing professional development opportunities are all ways to reward the hard-working teachers in a way that they will appreciate and will lead to additional benefits for the school. It’s time to start implementing reforms that not only sound good in theory, but actually result in real student achievement.