Performance, Job Pay and Teachers

by Fred Siegmund

Growing opinion from outside of teaching expects teachers to produce a quality product measured by student test scores. The use of test scores in teacher evaluation and the use of test scores was the primary contention for teachers in the Chicago teacher strike.

Manufactured products fail as a result of defective materials and workmanship, and so the logic follows that students must fail from defective teaching and poor teachers. The solution reformers want will adjust teacher salary to be in proportion to their student’s test scores: a merit pay plan.

Close to 100% of career teachers understand that merit pay plans introduce personal competition into teaching, which will detract and harm their efforts to collaborate and work together. Second grade teachers realize their students are last year’s first graders and next year’s third graders. Third grade teachers realize their students are last year’s second graders and so on.

If they all work together and help each other, and the new teachers, then the skills and test scores of all students might rise as students go from teacher to teacher and grade to grade.

However, some test scores will always be higher than others. Merit pay proposals and plans that reward faculty based on the highest test scores are like sports competition where there is a winner and a loser, but no incentive to work together. Pay plans that help education and improve test scores will need to recognize that teachers do not work in isolation and should not be treated as if they do.

Low-entry salaries for teachers help school systems conserve funds while new teachers decide if they will take the time and make the effort to learn teaching and become professionals. Many do not, but those who do find that salary schedules reward experience and evidence of continuing education.

Close to 100% of teachers support evaluations based on their education and their easily assessable effort to use and develop class material, and to work and collaborate with other teachers to improve student learning across all grades and classes. Those who stay under this system can expect to earn a middle class salary by the middle of their career and more if they complete a master’s degree.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to change that and make 40% of teacher evaluations based on test scores. In a massive school system like Chicago, test scores will vary by attendance and drop out rates, parental involvement, family income and some by teacher skill and experience. Teachers know the 40% of their evaluation based on test scores is high enough to threaten the economic status and professional standing as teachers. It also happens to be bad for education.

(image via woodleywonderworks on Flickr)

About the author: Fred Siegmund covers America's jobs as part of work doing labor market analysis and projections for a client base of recruiters, trainers and counselors. Visit him at

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