Merit Pay

November 18, 2016

This article appeared in a previous issue of The Worker. 

Many states and cities across the country, including Colorado, Ohio, Minneapolis, and others, have begun implementing pilot “merit pay” plans for public school teachers. Under these plans, part of a teacher’s pay becomes dependent on administrative review or students’ performance on standardized tests. Amongst other things, the “merit pay” schemes would eliminate seniority (years of service) as the basis for regular salary increases.

The goal of the state governments and school administrators is anything but actually paying teachers according to their merit. If this were the goal, public school teachers across the country would immediately get a big, across-the-board raise just to bring their salaries up to the average level of workers with similar education and experience. For example, on average, an accountant is paid 12% more than a teacher, an engineer 64% more, and a lawyer 82% more. These statistics not only show the extent to which teachers are underpaid but also indicate the low priority which the government assigns to the education of the youth.

“Merit pay” schemes are really a way to cut wages by making raises dependent on arbitrary standards and subjective whims of school administrators.

Especially during the last 30-40 years, teachers have joined together in unions and come out in many struggles to demand improved wages and objective standards for pay scales and periodic raises, based on years of service, education, hours of work, etc.  “Merit pay” aims at erasing these collective standards and rights.

“Merit pay” is also part of the campaign of the government and school administrators to absolve themselves of any responsibility for our country’s educational system. For several years, the government has been under funding the public schools and slashing needed investments. But to avoid the blame for these crimes, many politicians have carried a deafening propaganda condemning teachers and their unions as “overpaid bureaucrats.” This is like listening to the capitalists blame the workers for “low productivity.” After all, it is the teachers who are doing the work of educating the youth, while it is the government which refuses to make the investments needed to implement a modern curriculum and educational system, which is letting the school buildings crumble and herding students into overcrowded classrooms. “Merit pay” schemes aim at letting the government off the hook while holding teachers responsible for falling student achievement.

The struggle of public school teachers against “merit pay” schemes and for higher wages demands the support of everyone.  Investing in education and bringing our public school system up to the level of the twenty first century means bringing teachers’ salaries in line with their vital contribution to the development of our country.