WHAT MERIT PAY CAN--AND CAN'T--DO
Although your recent article "Merit pay for teachers may not have much merit" (Top of the News, Mar. 9) focuses on the economic, political, and threatening aspects of pay-for-performance programs, it leaves a basic question unanswered: Can incentive-pay programs help improve the quality of American education? I believe they can, and despite the tone of your article, these plans should not be abandoned.
When interviewed by the author of the article, I spoke as a Fairfax County merit-pay teacher with over 20 years experience and indicated that I see the future of education linked to two factors: reducing class size and improving teaching quality. In analyzing the merits of merit pay, a careful look at what it can and cannot do must be taken.
The article notes that improvements in student performance do not seem to correlate to the existence of merit pay. The fact is that all the merit pay in the world cannot make even the most skillful teachers into magicians. With class size on the increase, available resources for classroom use on the decrease, the deep social issues that interfere with many students' readiness to learn, and lack of parental involvement, it is absurd to think that the existence of merit pay alone can compensate. Until these other issues are also dealt with, linking student-performance results to merit pay is neither fair nor realistic.
It is no easier to define the objectives of many kinds of work in business than it is to define the objectives of teaching. But the need to do it and get it right, is more often recognized in business operations because of its bearing on profits. But are we not also seeking a measurable form of profit in education?
Arnold S. Daniels