Merit Pay for Teachers?

An L.A. Unified proposal giving merit pay to teachers who improve student scores on standardized tests has sparked yet another controversy at the state's biggest school district. Proponents say it would provide teacher accountability and boost basic literacy and math skills, but the teachers' union calls merit pay an unproven fad that emphasizes rote learning and ignores larger problems. So the Business Journal asks:

Should pay for public-school teachers be based on test scores?

Peter Benudiz

Real Estate Attorney

Heller Ehrman

I understand the teachers' union taking that position, but oftentimes the union doesn't necessarily represent rank-and-file teachers, or the interests of the kids. I am a product of public education and a proponent of it, and there needs to be some delineation of who is a high-quality teacher. I think the rewards should be performance-based, not just salaries but also how teachers move up the ranks. I think there does need to be a review process for teachers. The teaching profession is one of the most important professions for society. Those people we entrust with our children's wellbeing should be held accountable.

Linda Raffel

Director, Legal Services Division

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

I'm for anything that would increase teacher pay, but I think it's the wrong method. Teachers can't necessarily turn things around in one year. Often, students' problems start before they get to a classroom. I have a friend who teaches kindergarten in the inner city, and she's dealing with kids who can't speak English, who are hungry, and their parents can't or won't come to parent-teacher conferences. We need to find a way to make sure teachers are doing their jobs, and test scores are absolutely important. But this doesn't seem likely to make them better teachers.

David Massey

Director of Education

Hollywood Entertainment Museum

I don't have a problem with merit pay. But I do have a problem with how you define who is meritorious. It's a more complicated question will the principal of a school define it? That could lead to political questions. You can't hold teachers accountable for a system that hasn't been fully defined. If a classroom is overpopulated with, say, 40 kids, are you still going to hold a teacher accountable for low performance? I'm all for it if they can figure out how to do it fairly.

Jeffrey Smith

Vice President

Scudder Kemper

Investments

I am hugely passionate about doing things to correct the problems with public education, but with any kind of promo like that, you can run into a lot of problems. There's a danger of emphasizing test preparation over real learning. I'm not so sure that the best-educated students are necessarily the ones who score the highest. The problem is much larger than that children need to be motivated just as much as teachers. Children should all have access to a good education. The only way it's going to be solved is by increased funding to schools and teachers. I definitely think that teachers need to be paid, overall, more in order to attract the best.

Kurt Rice

Chiropractor

California Back Center

I used to think merit pay was a good idea until I heard a speaker at the Kiwanis Club who was a special education teacher at L.A. Unified. She felt that teachers should be judged, but that the current method of testing wasn't an adequate method of measuring it. If a kid doesn't fit into a written learning model maybe they learn better in a tactile fashion, or are more visual they're out of luck. And some of the tests are short, like 15 minutes long, but the same kid who does badly on it may do very well on a three-hour comprehensive exam. I think teachers should not be just tenured and forgotten about, but I don't think this plan is the best way.

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