Education policy tends to be a staple discussion item in our family. My sister has headed the art program at Sycamore School for the past quarter-century and written several well-received books on arts pedagogy. Our daughter served three terms on the IPS school board, took a “time out” to work with education policy organizations, and was recently re-elected.
Family get-togethers, as you might imagine, focus a lot on education. If there is one thing I’ve learned during these (sometimes interminable) discussions, it’s that education in a highly diverse democracy is complicated–and that folks with the simple answers aren’t helping. (Yes, Governor Pence, that most definitely includes you.)
My sister recently shared a post from Edutopia, a respected education website, that goes a long way toward explaining why those simple answers are so often wrong answers. The author consults the available research to debunk 8 myths that undermine effectiveness–widely-held beliefs that are belied by the available evidence. (Class size really does matter. So does money. Etc.)
The entire post is worth a read, but one myth he explores–and debunks–is one that I admittedly had harbored: merit pay.
Paying more effective teachers more just seems like a no-brainer. The devil, as the author points out, is in the details.
The full argument is that merit pay is a good way to increase teacher performance, because teachers should be evaluated on the basis of student performance, and rewarding or punishing schools for student performance will improve our nation’s schools. However, evidence suggests that competition between teachers is counterproductive and interferes with collaboration. Measuring teacher effectiveness is very difficult, and no simple measures effectively do this. There is no evidence that merit pay correlates with improved student achievement, but there is strong evidence that basing teacher salaries on student performance is counterproductive and ethically wrong — it frequently punishes teachers and schools for socioeconomic factors over which they have no control.
Crap. Back to the drawing board…