Merit pay for teachers is a pay scale for people in the teaching profession that is based on performance, rather than tenure. Many people are proponents of this type of pay system, arguing that it rewards good teachers for skilled work while encouraging others to develop more professional skills. Organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers have raised concerns about how such wage plans are administered, however, suggesting that teacher performance is a challenging thing to evaluate, and this type of payment plan may not be the best way to improve overall educational standards.
When a school district uses a merit pay plan, it typically creates a system for evaluating teacher performance and examines the teachers in the district regularly to see how they are performing. A teacher who routinely performs above the standard may be offered higher pay for his or her work, as will teachers who pursue professional growth, while other teachers are kept at the regular pay standard. Depending on how the system is applied, it may allow teachers to progress more quickly through the various pay grades, or it may put teachers on different salary tracks.
The primary issue with merit pay for teachers is the question of how to evaluate teacher performance. Most merit systems look at classroom performance, but it can be difficult to judge this fairly. The use of testing as a yardstick for pay can be dangerous, because a lot of factors go into how a student performs on a standardized test, including parental involvement, student access to educational materials that may be hindered by limited budgets, and an individual child's learning style and test-taking skills.
Merit pay programs can also look at lesson plants, student behavior in the classroom, student success after leaving the classroom, and evaluations from other teachers. Most critics argue that the best way to assess teacher performance is from outside the district, with several states in America setting up “master teacher” programs to identify particularly talented teachers and reward them for their work. Master teachers also work with other teachers in their districts, discussing teaching techniques, classroom strategy, and so forth.
When well applied, merit pay can reward talented, innovative teachers who encourage children to think in new ways, expanding their experiences and knowledge base. When poorly applied, however, it can verge on cronyism, with district favorites receiving pay raises while teachers who struggle with a number of challenges are not credited for their hard work. There is one thing that supporters and opponents can agree upon, however: teachers should be making more money across the board for the work they do.