Most Charleston County teachers still get raises based on how long they’ve been teaching and whether or not they have advanced degrees.
However, some teachers’ pay is tied, in part, to how well their students improve on test scores, and the district is committed to considering merit in evaluating all teachers.
The Charleston County School District received a $23.7 million federal grant to design a merit pay system that will include training for teachers who need it and bonuses for high-performing teachers.
As part of that research, CCSD is inviting input from educators. What they’re hearing is not surprising: some people like the idea of merit pay, but lots of teachers here, like teachers around the country, really hate it.
Opponents insist that other attempts to pay teachers based on merit have proven unsuccessful. But those arguments don’t hold up.
For example, students who live in communities that are poor and undereducated generally perform worse on tests. There is apprehension that their teachers will not get a fair shake because of that. But merit pay is to be tied to the progress students make on test scores, not the test scores themselves.
Moreover, CCSD is paying Mathematica, a national software company, $2.9 million to design a way to compute various factors, including adjustments for factors such as poverty.
Another area of concern for teachers (and puzzlement for parents) is that putting too much emphasis on test scores will stymie teacher creativity and push them to “teach to the test” instead of “meeting students’ needs.”
Each grade level has specific learning objectives. Good teachers should be able to cover that material (which relates to test questions) and still be creative. A creative teacher who doesn’t address subjects adequately might be kind or entertaining, but he still is failing his students.
Other fears: Teachers who are preoccupied with preparing their students for standardized tests might spend too much time offering instruction in test-taking techniques and not enough time on the subject matter. They might use the time set aside for art, music or physical education to focus on test material, to the detriment of their students.
And they might even feel compelled to cheat to boost their students’ scores.
But people in any profession have to learn to set priorities and manage time. Certainly, they have to resist the urge to be dishonest, or face the consequences. Teachers are no different.
Naysayers predict that teachers whose pay depends, in part, on how well their students score will be less apt to work together for the good of the school. But the merit pay model being considered by CCSD factors in school-wide growth, and hence should foster a sense of collegiality.
It is no surprise that teachers are anxious about changing the way their salaries are determined. A survey by the Charleston Teacher Alliance showed that 46 percent want teachers to continue being rewarded for experience and education. Forty-eight percent like the idea of bonuses but only if they are awarded in addition to the current salary schedule. Who wouldn’t?
But there’s a reason that change is warranted here and across the nation. Students from the United States do not score well compared to children in other industrialized nations. The traditional way of educating children in this country is falling short. Practices that are akin to those that work in the business world should be applied to this problem.
Many teachers respond by saying that education isn’t a business. Educators don’t choose their profession for the money. It’s a calling, so bonuses won’t work.
But even dedicated teachers like getting paid a salary, and most would like getting paid a higher salary. And the new system will better recognize a job well done.
Evaluating teachers, in part, on how much their students’ test scores improve is reasonable. It’s time for them to stop resisting and get involved in planning so that the changes will lead to better instruction for all students.