Merit pay for teachers

Should teachers’ pay increases be based on the merit of their performance instead of seniority, as Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed? Most people would say yes, at least in concept, because it makes sense and besides that’s how most workers’ salaries are set.

But if ever there was a case of the devil being in the details, this is it. What exactly constitutes merit? And how would it be measured? Student test scores? Peer reviews? Willingness to teach in poor schools? Is it possible to deal with merit pay without considering other issues, such as how to attract more good people to teaching and encourage teachers to work in poor districts? And what about changing the very methods of teaching, so that teachers don’t have to work in isolation and can benefit from their colleagues in team-teaching situations?

And, by the way, how does the governor expect to get the teachers’ support on this idea, when it comes packaged with a deal-breaking $2.2 billion cut in Proposition 98-mandated funding just a year after he promised to restore the full education budget?

Nor did he help matters last year, when he failed to appoint his share of members to the Quality Education Commission, a group authorized two years ago to examine schools top to bottom to determine just what makes a good education. Instead he wants to kill the commission.

The governor deserves credit for opening a discussion on merit pay for teachers, but it needs to go much further. Revitalizing the Quality Education Commission would be a good start.