On Merit Pay for Teachers


I don’t know how long this link will be available, but Eric Schopmeyer, a Portland, Oregon music teacher speaks about, not the impossibility of instituting merit pay fairly across the board, but of the disrespect to our profession by pushing the issue.

Right on, Eric!

For another view on merit pay, which highlights how the federal government (a government that intrudes on the constitutional right of the states to handle public education) views the issue, check out Larry Ferlazzo on In Practice.


Should Eric’s link become history, here’s the text from “The Stump,” opinion from The Oregonian online.

Education, In My Opinion, Sunday Commentary »

Merit pay for teachers

By George Rede

March 21, 2009, 6:46AM
Eric Schopmeyer

Count instead on real incentives to help kids achieve

Implicit in the idea of merit pay is the notion that teachers would work harder at their jobs if only they were motivated by the promise of more money. This misapplication of market principles is utterly disrespectful to our nation’s educators. At best, it reads as a dark, satirical joke.

A scene in such a black comedy might open thusly: A classroom of 32 second-graders struggles in a futile attempt to complete an assignment while a teacher leans back lazily in her chair, ignoring them, counting out a neat stack of twenties thinking, “No, still not enough. Oh, if only someone would make it worth my while, I could easily get all these kids to pass the test. But until then … .”

Any cursory examination of our education system will turn up a group of serious and dedicated professionals who pour their hearts and souls into their jobs, working countless hours of unpaid overtime, dipping into our own pockets for needed supplies and tirelessly shepherding children toward academic success.

We do all this in an environment of essentially untenable conditions caused by the toxic dichotomy of ever-increasing demands and ever-diminishing resources. And it shouldn’t come as news to anyone that people don’t go into teaching for the money. We work our hardest every day not for the promise of the dollar but for love for the children and a deep belief that education is the key to a healthy society. You could give us a million dollar bonus every year, but it wouldn’t make a difference without a substantial investment in improving the fundamental conditions under which we are made to work.

A parallel scene might take place on the battlefields of Afghanistan. A small battalion, outnumbered and unarmed, is deployed behind enemy lines. Their commanding officer promises each of them bonus pay should they reign victorious. They’ll fight because they have to. They’ll fight for survival. They’ll fight out of loyalty. But without proper weaponry and ample reinforcements, the battle (and their survival) is a lost cause. The motivation of bonus pay is moot.

If you want to spend money to improve teaching and learning in the classroom, spend it on reducing class size, spend it on the resources and materials that we desperately lack, spend it on upgrading our crumbling facilities, spend it on programs to end the poverty that prevents so many of our kids from succeeding.

Sure, teachers deserve more pay — all teachers do. That’s a simple matter of respect for an extremely challenging profession that is so vital to our society and our economy. But I’d take a reduction in class size over an increase in pay any day.

Eric Schopmeyer is a music teacher at Marysville Elementary School in Portland.


11 thoughts on “On Merit Pay for Teachers

  1. Well, having read my latest post, you know exactly where I stand on this issue! My under-performing students (I’m a special ed teacher) guarantee that I will never benefit from my district’s bonus pay to teachers whose students pass quarterly benchmark assessments. 😦

    • I added another link since you first saw this post. I feel your pain, to paraphrase a President I never used to appreciate, but maybe now do.

      BTW, so there’s no confusion, California Teacher Guy is not whom I refer to as “Eric.” That’s the teacher in my article link.

  2. Amen, Eric! You know, I wouldn’t say that I made so little if I didn’t spend so much reinvesting it into my classroom on material and supplies. America’s business’ do not require employees to bring their own supplies to work? Why should it require it’s educators to do so?

  3. I’ve had an issue with merit pay since I heard about the topic. It sounds lovely, but then I have to ask what rubric there is to designate who gets what. And if you go with the educans, you’ll see that they want to base it on test scores. Sucks to be anyone teaching lower-performing students irrespective of race.

  4. Good to see you, missprofe! I think I’ll forward that link to President Obama.

    I’ve got your new blog on my roll. Squarespace is a cool platform…a hybrid really. Part web site, part blog. My son makes good use of its features at http://www.FishDeschutes.com , which features his fly fishing guide service.

    You’re right on target, Jose. Merit pay is a tempting concept until we look more closely. Then it’s really ugly.

  5. What I don’t understand, Edward, is what happens to educator brains when they become bureaucrats. It’s almost like teaching and politics are mutually exclusive!

    Good to see you over here!

  6. Hugh. Merit pay is merely a carrot politicians use to entice voters who have not the slightest clue as to what happens inside the walls of a school building. Of course, every one of these people think teachers are overpaid already, with way too many days off, and great hours. Right.

    It has been talked about for at least the last twenty years, but does anyone know where it is being implemented?

    And as a Special educator, I agree with the CaliforniaTeacherGuy… I’d never see a bump in pay if it was done in my neck of the woods.

    Tom Anselm, teacher and author

    • Hey Tom, you’ve been reading John Kremer? Good luck with the book.

      You’re right about the duration of the merit pay conversation. My Dad and I used to talk about it back in the sixties (he retired in 1982). In those days the building principal would have made the decision about who got it and who didn’t. Dangerous for staff morale, and by extension, dangerous for student achievement.

  7. This whole idea really irks me. Teachers have no control over the students’ condition. It’s like giving Merit pay to ER Surgeons.

    Taught at the lowes performing school in San Fran for 3 years. Ahhhhh! What public education has become!


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