The Escambia County School District is one of only nine districts (out of sixty-seven) in Florida that was able to negotiate, develop, and deliver a state sponsored merit bonus plan for our qualifying teachers for the 2007-2008 school year. With our district poised to send out merit bonus checks to our outstanding teachers, I began to wonder why more Florida districts chose not to reward their top-performing educators with bonuses.
Paying educators incentive or “merit pay” is a very controversial concept, often part of a package of innovative ideas. If you are a person who is interested in reforming public education, then you would likely support the concept of merit pay. You may also like the idea of expanded charter schools, more parental choice, and some limited use of tuition vouchers for students who attend chronically ineffective public schools.
By contrast, if you are a dyed in the wool, staunch supporter of the union controlled, status quo behemoth that is the public education machine in America today, you are probably happy with the system just as it is. Your only focus, if your are of this mindset, is probably that No Child Left Behind is evil, needs to be stopped, and you probably find yourself carrying the NEA/AFT water, replete with mantras like “every teacher is equally effective” and “we need more government funding” and “you’re dumbing down the students, teaching to the tests”
The problem with the above mentioned, narrow minded status-quo loving mentality is that the U.S. is slowly losing ground to other countries with respect to educational attainment in math and science. Something needs to change, it needs to happen fast, and it needs to entail a broad range of reforms, chief among which needs to be increasing parental participation in children’s’ education and retaining qualified, effective teachers.
Rewarding the best teachers is a step that may help districts with retention of staff. Be it offering incentive pay, raising starting salaries, improving working conditions, or any other means we can implement-- we need to find a way to do it. We need to find a way to retain the passionate, young, and energetic teachers who so often leave the profession within 5 years. Most importantly, we need to find a way to weed out low performing educators, who under the current union controlled system throughout the country cannot be terminated for being ineffective. In many cases and even for good cause, the costs and length of time associated with terminating a teacher, for any reason, is unbearable. Sadly, many incompetent teachers remain on school districts’ payrolls until they choose to retire, because of this archaic, inane union contrived system. This system, when fully and completely allowed to flourish unchecked, results in ridiculous situations such as the NYC school district’s infamous “Rubber Rooms”
Something in education has to change.
Paying teachers for their performance is a good start. The concept of paying teachers and rewarding them based solely upon seniority, continuing education, and post-graduate educational achievement is not a system that is moving our schools ahead. It is a system that often times simply rewards mediocrity.
The prevalent culture of disdain for the standardized testing of students, combined with a year over year analysis of these scores as a metric for illustrating teacher effectiveness, is also a hindrance to reform.
Thankfully, opinions in this country are changing on the subject of educational reform and more and more districts, like Escambia County, are moving toward merit pay systems. Some (daring) districts are even going for a complete teacher compensation overhaul. A great example of this is the train-wreck in slow motion also known as the Washington, D.C. public school system. The D.C. schools, the most expensive on a cost per student basis and also among the worst in the nation (if not the worst) are contemplating a series of radical reforms to finally get their schools back on track. These reforms are being considered even over the loud objections of the powerful D.C. Teacher’s unions. The young teachers are dropping the union positions and embracing reform (and a higher wage!). I hope they are successful.
And, the good news continues. No matter who wins the White House this November, at least we will have a president that supports Merit Pay for teachers. McCain supports merit pay, but—astonishingly-- so does Barack Obama. At the recent NEA convention, after he secured the endorsement of the NEA, Obama jumped into the middle of the Merit Pay issue. He told the stunned and silent group that he supports Merit Pay. Apparently, this Obama proclamation to the NEA went over like a barrel of ice water poured over one's head.
Barack Obama’s overall campaign mantra is a need for “change”, and this (merit pay) is the one change he is right on. The educational system in America is in desperate need of some changes, and Merit Pay may be a good place to start. The AFT's new incomming president apparently is not averse to looking at merit pay with an open mind.
Could Escambia County, with our upcoming merit payouts for teachers, be a part of the catalyst for a nationwide reform movement?
I hope so, but we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do before we get there.
I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.