Merit pay can work
President Reagan is to be commended for advocating merit pay as one way to improve the schoolteaching profession. If public school teaching is to compete with industrial opportunities and other high-skilled professions, changes in standards and salaries are inevitable.
Merit pay requires setting up criteria for teacher evaluations. Good teachers need not fear this process. Teachers, administrators, and school board members can work together to develop an acceptable, workable, creative formula.
It is important that teachers have input at every step of the planning. A logical procedure for implementation of a merit plan could be for teachers to submit in writing an evaluation of themselves according to established criteria. An objective, written evaluation presented by a supervisor or principal is usually necessary. These evaluations become applications for upward movement on the merit pay schedule.
A committee of teachers and administrators reviews the evaluations for acceptance or rejection. If members of the committee can identify the applicant, they must disqualify themselves. The superintendent of the school system can give the final approval for merit pay increases. This procedure can eliminate much of the personalizing and politics. Along with merit pay, ways for guiding out weak, unprofessional teachers can be developed.
Merit pay could be an incentive to attract more and better qualified young people into the teacher training institutes. The institutes could thereby do a better job of screening for potentially good teachers and upgrade their academic standards. The student teaching experience should be the final opportunity for proving without a doubt that a teacher candidate can teach a concept, control a classroom, and have good rapport with children. Tenure has long protected teachers, but it doesn't take three years to discover whether or not a teacher is an asset to the profession.
It was my privilege to observe a workable merit pay system evolve at School District 65, Evanston, Ill., and to be a recipient of its benefits. Therefore, I wholeheartedly support the President on this issue. Many teachers and administrators consider merit pay as one possible way to uplift the standards in our public schools today. Surely this is the time to get merit pay systems started in the United States and begin to pay teachers according to the skills the public expects of them.