Pros and Cons of Performance Based Pay for Teachers

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Performance based pay for teachers, or merit pay, is a trending educational topic. Teacher pay in general is often highly debated. Performance based pay ties teaching components such as standardized test scores and teacher evaluations to a salary schedule. Performance based pay originated from a corporate model basing salary on job performance. Higher performing teachers receive more pay, while lower performing teachers receive less.

The Denver school district may have the most successful performance based pay program in the nation. The program, called ProComp, is seen as a national model for performance based pay. ProComp was designed to impact critical issues such as student achievement, teacher retention, and teacher recruitment positively. The program has been credited with boosting those areas, but it does have its critics.

Performance based pay will likely continue to increase in popularity over the next decade. Like any educational reform issue, there are two sides to the argument. Here, we examine the pros and cons of performance based pay for teachers.


Performance Based Pay Motivates Teachers to Make Improvements in the Classroom

Performance based pay systems offer teachers a reward based on meeting set performance measures typically tied to student performance. These measures are based upon educational research and are a set of best practices intended to boost overall student outcomes. Many of the best teachers are already doing a lot of these things in their classrooms. With performance based pay, they may be asked to take it a little above what they normally do, or it may motivate low performing teachers to get their acts together in order to receive their bonus.

Performance Based Pay Provides Teachers with the Opportunity to Receive a Higher Salary

People typically do not become teachers because of the salary, but it does not mean that they do not want or need more money. Sadly, a relatively large number of teachers across the country are picking up a second job to keep their family afloat financially. Performance based pay not only provides teachers with an option to make more money, but motivates them to meet targeted objectives while doing so. It is a win, win situation both the teacher and their students. The teacher makes more money, and in turn their students get a better education.

Performance Based Pay Invites Competition thus Raising Student Performance

Performance based pay creates competition amongst teachers. The better their students perform the more money they receive. Higher outcomes translate to high pay. Teachers are often competitive by nature. They want their fellow teachers to be successful, but they also want to be just a little bit better. Healthy competition pushes teachers to become better, which in turn boost student learning. Everyone wins when the best teachers work hard to stay at the top, and mediocre teachers work hard to improve enough to be considered one the best.

Performance Based Pay Allows Bad Teachers to be Removed Easier

Many performance based pay systems include components which allow principals to terminate teachers who continuously fail to meet goals and objectives. Most teacher unions adamantly opposed performance based pay because of this element. Standard teacher contracts make it difficult to terminate employment, but a performance based pay contract makes it easier to remove a bad teacher. Teachers who are unable to get the job done are replaced by another teacher who may be able to get things on track.

Performance Based Pay Aids in Teacher Recruitment and Retention

Performance based pay can be an attractive incentive especially for young teachers who have a lot to offer. The opportunity for higher pay is often too compelling to pass up. The extra work is worth the higher salary. In addition, schools offering performance based pay typically have no problems attracting top teaching talent. The pool is usually exceptionally deep, so they are able to get quality teachers from the beginning. They also keep their good teachers. The best teachers are easy to retain because they are well respected and likely will not receive a higher salary elsewhere.


Performance Based Pay Encourages Teachers to Teach to Standardized Tests

A large part of the performance based pay objectives rest in standardized test scores. Teachers across the nation are already feeling the pressure to abandon creativity and originality and instead to teach to the tests. Attaching an increase in pay only amplifies that situation. Standardized testing is all the rage in public education and performance based pay only adds fuel to the fire. Teachers skip once celebrated teachable moments; they neglect valuable life lessons, and have essentially become robots all in the name of passing a single test on a single day during the school year.

Performance Based Pay Can Potentially Be Costly to the District

School districts across the United States are already cashed strapped. Teachers on a performance based contract do receive a base salary. They receive a “bonus” for meeting specific objectives and goals. This “bonus” money can add up quickly. The Denver Public School District was able to start ProComp thanks to voters who approved a tax increase that allowed them to fund the incentive program. It would have been impossible to fund the program without the revenue generated from the tax increase. School districts would find it exceedingly difficult to maintain the funds necessary to run a performance based pay program without additional funding.

Performance Based Pay Dilutes a Teacher’s Overall Value

Most teachers offer much more than just the ability to meet learning objectives or goals. Teaching should be about more than just a test score. They should be rewarded for size of the impact they make and for making a difference. Yet those qualities go unrecognized and unrewarded. Teachers have a powerful influence on their students, yet their relegated to ensuring that their students are going to pass a test. It skews the true value of a teacher, when you only base the job they are doing on meeting student performance objectives. 

Performance Based Pay Fails to Consider Factors Beyond a Teacher’s Control

There are many factors beyond a teacher’s control that influence student performance just as much or more than any teacher will. Factors such as lack of parental involvement, poverty, and learning disabilities offer real hindrances to learning. They are nearly impossible to overcome. The reality is that teachers who sacrifice to pour into the lives of these students are often seen as bad teachers because their students do not meet the level of proficiency that their peers do. The truth is that many of these teachers are doing a far superior job than their peers who teach at an affluent school, yet they fail to receive the same rewards for their hard work.

Performance Based Pay Can Potentially Harm High Risk Areas

Every school is not the same. Every student is not the same. Why would a teacher want to teach in a school surrounded by poverty and have the cards stacked against them, when they can teach in an affluent school and have immediate success? A performance based pay system would keep many of the best teachers from pursuing jobs in those high risk areas because of nearly impossible odds to meet the performance measures needed to make it worth the while.