For those of you not familiar with the term merit pay, it’s simply a way for teachers to receive financial incentive for students excelling in their educational studies. So what exactly is the issue? Don’t private and public companies alike provide financial incentives to their employees for a job well done? Providing financial incentives for a job well done works just fine in most cases, but would be a disaster and not fair for teachers in the New York City School system.

So why is it that merit pay does not work and should not be implemented in the New York City school system? First, the City of New York would like to base merit pay solely on the ability of the students to pass the year end city and state exams. Makes sense in that the year end exams are supposed to gauge whether the teacher did his or her job. However, the year end exams are meant to show whether the student is now currently on grade level. So what’s the problem? The city does now want to take into account if the child started on grade level to begin with. For example, if a child beginning 3rd grade is currently reading on a 1st grade level and fails the 3rd grade exam it does not mean the teacher did not do his or her job. Technically the teacher would have needed to reinforce all material of the 1st grade level, get the child to read on a 2nd grade level, reinforce that material and then begin teaching the child 3rd grade material. Yes the student may have failed the year end reading examinations but can also mean that the teacher simply ran out of time.

Second, if a child enters third grade on a 1st grade reading level it does not mean the 1st and 2nd grade teachers failed to do his or her job. Teachers can only teach those who are willing to be taught. If a child doesn’t comes to class, doodles in his or her books and does not complete homework assignments, is that truly the fault of the teacher? Not in my opinion. It’s the fault of the child’s parent(s). If a teacher writes a letter home, makes phone calls to the students home and receives no response from the parent what is the teacher to do? Should the teacher also raise the child and make home visits? A teacher’s job is to teach and a parent’s job is to raise their children. If a parent is not taking an active role in their children’s education and chooses to ignore the teacher then why should the teacher be held accountable for the educational performance of that child?

Third, teachers in higher income areas whose students have actively involved parents will have more students that pass the year end city and state examinations. The teachers in those schools will receive merit pay while the teachers in lower income areas that have little to no parental involvement will not. This will lead to teachers trying to transfer from their schools to “higher performing” schools. Of course, most teachers would not be able to transfer and will continue their careers working twice as hard while continuing to receive less pay. Technically if you are working twice as hard as someone shouldn’t you be compensated more for your work?

I’m in favor for people receiving additional compensation for a job well done but there is currently no effective way for merit pay to be given to teachers of New York City. There are too many variables that need to be taken into consideration and accounted for that is separate and independent of test scores and raw data. Until the City of New York can effectively gauge and grade each student’s parent on their involvement or non involvement in the education of their child merit pay will never work.