Sunday, January 13, 2013

Merit pay rears its ugly head again

This was written by the Alberta Teachers' Association and was originally found here.

by The Alberta Teachers' Association

The Calgary Herald reported January 9 that Education Minister Jeff Johnson wants to initiate a discussion about introducing merit pay into Alberta’s education system.

While the minister suggested that the conversation should occur after collective agreements are signed with the province’s teachers, the timing is odd given his late-December dictate to school boards about approving agreements reached in local salary negotiations .

Research against merit pay schemes is stacking up. Recent studies from Harvard University, the RAND Corporation and Mathematica Policy Research demonstrate that merit pay schemes have little or no value in improving student learning. The Harvard study by Roland Fryer found that a $75 million merit pay program initiated by New York City in 2007 has been a complete and utter failure. Not only did it not increase student achievement at all but, in fact, Fryer found that “student achievement declined” in schools where merit pay was introduced.

It is interesting that Johnson, who was co-chair of Inspiring Education, would speak of merit pay, given the choice of Daniel Pink as a keynote speaker at one of Inspiring Education’s provincial forums. Pink, the author of the best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, said the best way to use money as a motivator is to raise the base salary of teachers. “Instead of fretting about paying their bills on an insufficient salary or scheming to get a small bonus, teachers could focus on the work they love,” explained Pink.

ATA President Carol Henderson questioned the minister’s decision to bring up merit pay. “It’s surprising that the minister would raise this thoughtless notion,” she said. “The minister should know that research shows that merit pay doesn’t work, and he should know that discussing it would provoke teachers, so I’m wondering why he would choose to utter it.”

Henderson sees talk of new salary schemes while local bargaining is ongoing as an intrusion on the local bargaining process. The mention of merit pay is not the first such attempt by Johnson to intrude in local bargaining. In a letter dated December 21, 2012, Johnson directed school board chairs to provide him with the terms, conditions and costing of any agreements reached with teachers. He directed that the information be sent at least 10 business days prior to ratification by the school board.

“It is time now for the minister to allow boards to work on bargaining with teachers,” said Henderson. “He had a great opportunity to inform negotiations during tripartite discussions. He had an opportunity to constrain salary increases while improving classrooms and he passed it up. Teachers want the minister to improve classroom conditions to reflect 21st-century learning, not distract us with bad ideas inspired by 19th-century factories.”

Further talking points on merit pay are available here.

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