Merit Pay for Teachers: A Review Page: 9
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The issue of merit pay for classroom teachers has become a major national issue among
teacher groups, administrators and legislators. The issue also has captured the attention of
President Reagan, who has endorsed a merit pay approach for teachers.
Endorsements by political figures and administrators, however, have not been echoed by
teacher groups who feel that any attempt to use merit pay to solve problems in the public
schools is too simplistic. Teacher associations, through their leaders, feel that merit pay is
not the answer to improved achievement; moreover, the concept of merit pay has been
fraught with problems and has had a history of only modest success in public school education.
While one must concede that merit pay is not a panacea for complex educational prob-
lems, the use of pay to motivate performance has long been used as a reward for excellence
in business and industry. Psychological studies dating back to 1949 suggest that pay ac-
commodates esteem, security and psychological needs in many individuals. This does not
discount the fact that rewards other than pay may indeed serve as motivation for others.
While pay may not be the sole motivator of all teachers, the common assumption that
pay ranks relatively low on any list of motivators has not been supported by research
evidence. Effective merit pay systems that have been tied to performance and recognition
can motivate workers and provide pay satisfaction.
If pay satisfaction can be assumed to be a condition of increased motivation and perform-
ance, then those who develop such plans must be aware of conditions that lead to pay
satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Research evidence indicates that those who are dissatisfied
with their pay feel that they have low input into the pay process, have demanding jobs, few
monetary outcomes from performance, a low wage history and a discrepancy between their
salary and that of their peers. Pay satisfaction is correlated with increased wages, the per-
ception of the amount of pay increase, employers' openness about raises, salaries that are
tied to performance, and a continuous monitoring of the overall pay process.
Effective merit systems must incorporate these elements of pay satisfaction. Moreover,
the most effective systems are individual rather than group or organizational plans, use a
bonus concept rather than a salary increase, and include objective standards of behavior for
Most of the concepts related to merit pay proposals have come from business and indus-
try, and there traditionally has been opposition to the concept of merit pay among teacher
groups. Teacher concerns include problems associated with evaluation, morale, fairness,
supervisor bias and competence, legislative (funding) support, past failures, cost of admin-
istration, time required to implement plans, disruption of cooperation among faculty mem-
bers and the lack of objective criteria to determine effective teaching.
While one must recognize these concerns, they must be viewed as problems to be solved
rather than as insurmountable barriers. The fact remains that problems abound in our schools.
Faced with the grim facts associated with our natural productivity and world leadership, we
can no longer afford to neglect our schools. We have fallen behind other nations and we
need innovative approaches to confront the problem. While merit pay is not a panacea, it is
one approach-one hope-for improvement in public education. Merit pay is an idea whose
time has come. It is incumbent upon the leadership of this nation at all levels-local, state,
and national--to find workable and prompt solutions to our school problems.
The first attack on these problems must be to raise the salary levels for beginning teach-
ers to a level that will make teaching financially attractive to high school and college
students who are deciding on careers. Beyond that, we must provide incentives to academi-
cally talented people that will allow them to remain in the public school classrooms.
One approach to selection and retention is a carefully planned and administered merit
system. Plans can be developed that will earn the support of teacher groups; money is, in
fact, a powerful motivator; evaluation schemes tied to performance are not impossible to
create; administrators and other supervisors can be trained to make objective evaluations. In
addition, merit pay need not be disruptive or counterproductive for school faculties. All of
this can be accomplished through the use of guidelines and concepts that have been tried
and proven in other professions. The low levels of teacher salaries in the nation and the
evidence that those with the most academic talent are leaving the profession demand imme-
diate and positive action.
Here’s what’s next.
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Muro, James F. Merit Pay for Teachers: A Review, pamphlet, December 1983; [Denton, Texas]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc83299/m1/11/: accessed March 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Education.