This involves "changing the role of school personnel in such a way that the resulting organization is capable of adapting the program of a given school to meet the needs of the child" (Conte, 1972) (finally, someone remembers that schools are about students not teachers). If the "objective of any reform measure is to increase the potential of the learning environment and facilitate the learning process" then creative ideas that involve changing the configuration and responsibilities of staff members to target their strengths must also be considered -- and should probably be implemented before any conversation about offering teachers more pay to do their jobs.
Other alternatives to merit pay
Alternatives to a merit pay system as a means of stoking educational improvement are not easy to find. Tenure and years of teaching experience are the normal and expected measures used to determine a teacher's salary and it would not appear that this is going away anytime soon. However, there are a paltry few suggestions that will be offered forthwith.
Ten years ago all stakeholders in the Denver Public Schools debated merit pay and the need for reform. In the end a new system of pay was instituted that "stopped paying based on years of service and started recognizing a host of skills and achievements on the job" (Drevitch, 2006). Today's system includes annual raises as well as incentives of up to one thousand dollars for such things as teachers who are working with large numbers of ESL students or handicapped children. There is also a monetary incentive for teachers who enter fields that are difficult to fill such as physics and the higher level math courses. This program that bases at least a portion of a teacher's salary on performance is now being duplicated in a number of states including Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Arizona and North Carolina.
Another alternative that has been proffered in place of merit pay is a teacher incentive plan. "These are agreements between school systems and teachers (unions) which offer teachers an opportunity to bonus pay, contingent upon academic improvement by their students on standardized achievement tests" (Conte, 1972). This again places the responsibility for student achievement squarely on the teachers (which just makes sense!) and at first glance seems only to differ from merit pay in that it is not formally incorporated into a salary schedule. However, this is not entirely true.
In one instance a team of teachers competed against a private firm that had recently come into the schools to improve reading scores. In order for the firm to be paid they had agreed to double students' reading scores over the course of a single year. If they did not achieve this goal they would then forfeit their pay. The teachers were offered a nominal incentive if they were able to do the same thing. In the end, the teachers fulfilled the goal.
A second and final example of incentivized pay for teachers occurred when a group of summer school teachers agreed to improve their students reading over the course of five weeks. If students did not make measurable gains then the teachers would not receive any pay for their time teaching summer school. In the end, the teachers received double the agreed upon incentive because they had been so successful.
Yet another example of an alternative to merit pay is the development of a scholarship program. "The money set aside for merit pay would be used to give scholarships to staff members and would not cost the school district additional money to implement the program" (Radtke, 1987). Those who were interested would submit a request for a scholarship to a committee of teachers and administrators.
Examples of requests include summer travel tied to the curriculum such as a trip to a convention, wanting to do curriculum work in the summer or allowing an entire department to evaluate a textbook series. If a teacher is awarded a scholarship they then pursue their request and once the program is completed they must provide a written evaluation of the experience.
In a down economy unions have become embattled and with each passing year lose ground on the issue of merit pay. At the same time, many communities do not feel they are getting their money's worth for their teachers, students and schools. These two problems have the potential to collide and the issue of merit pay will become a reality as citizens demand accountability and improvement. How will this impact personnel administration?
Personnel administrators in public education and elsewhere must meet the ever growing demands of the communities they serve. At once they must be sensitive to parents, the school board and teachers -- providing all with the excellence in service as they discharge their responsibilities. While the number of merit pay programs may be currently insignificant, the personnel manager should educate themselves to all sides of the issue as well as become informed of resources related to the topic. There is a very real chance that in their future they will be charged with developing and implementing a merit or other type of performance for pay program in their school district. The prepared personnel administrator will help to make the process less painful, and yes, perhaps even successful. Educate yourself.
Conte, a. (1972). Merit pay, problems and alternatives. New Jersey State dept of education.
Cramer, Jerome. (1983). Yes -- merit pay can be a horror, but a few school systems have done it right. American School Board, 170: 28, 33-34.
Drevitch, G. (2006). Merit Pay, Good for Teachers? Scholastic.
Gross, S. (1993). The new variable pay programs: How some succeed, why some don't. Compensation and Benefits Review. 51-62.
Guernsey, M. (1986). Review of related literature and research: History of merit pay, differentiated staffing, and incentive pay programs.
Heneman, R. (1998) a survey of merit pay plan effectiveness:…