I interrupt my (ir)regularly scheduled postings to put up a conversation that fell out of a facebook thread begun by a friend who is a current teacher after a haitus. The first 8 years of her career were teaching third graders in East Oakland, during which time they went through a principal each year, and she was the senior-most teacher in the school. She is opposed to merit pay, because she perceives a huge problem in the proposals she's been aware of that would increase the current bias that teachers have in favor of bright, intellectually talented students. She's concerned that the neediest kids would be even less desireable as classroom assignments if teachers are financially compensated based on students' test scores.
I normally don't do things like this, but her response to my comment was an outrageously encouraging, "Jessica - can you please start setting educational policy? :) I love the ideas, and I don't know why merit pay has only ever been (at least in the proposals I've heard) tied to test scores." So I thought I'd share!
There's a perfectly good way to do it. "Merit" doesn't mean absolute test scores, it means improvement from before given a specific human being.
You look at how the kids are coming in; you look at what happens to the kids OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL during the year; you look at how the kids are going out. You do this for several years in order to get a baseline set of data from which to build expectations from.
And when I say "look at how the kids are doing," I mean on not only academic milestones, but on developmental ones too. We all know kids sometimes pause a bit in intellectual development while they "figure out" important things about their social worlds (at any level), or are consumed with awkwardness and self-absorbtion they grow a foot and change their biochemistry.
Also, we can assess on any number of positive/supportive-of-strength personality profiling.
If we did this along with the teachers, we may even have a better way to do classroom assignments. (Every parent knows which parent is "better" or "worse" for their kid, even given a group of great teachers. I know my son performs like crazy for very demanding but extremely logical teachers. I didn't - I performed best for insightful and enlightening teachers; they didn't even have to cover the course material.)
Before we talk about merit, we should know what improvement looks like. It's a return-on-investment kind of metric (how much you get out compared to what you've put in), not an absolute amount. In fact that would INCREASE the desireability of teaching the needy kids, since improvements in any area count, and there's such a high opportunity for improvement. You can even incent the pay higher for getting kids below-grade-level to grade-level, assuming that's a harder role because you are likely to have complicating issues, at least self-esteem.
What it will also point out are the kids who are needy in a way a teacher can't possibly meet: they need healthcare or counseling or are chronically underfed. We would have to dovetail this into healthcare or other components, but it would also legitimize (financially) having those resources affiliated with the schools.
Well, do you agree with Bronwyn? Should I be setting educational policy? Before you answer, let me point you to another one of my hare-brained ideas: Education Reconceived where I just completely upend the curriculum taxonomy to make way for more relevant k12 coursework, and to build in a mechanism for change.