Merit Pay for Teachers: A Review Page: 6
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In addition to general questions related to improved instruction, there are a number of
questions related to the use of merit pay for public school teachers. They include the following:
(1) If annual or step-pay raises are eliminated, can we expect legislators to support merit
raises on a consistent basis?
(2) Will a merit pay plan attract better-qualified people into teaching? Will such a plan
enable schools to retain superior teachers?
(3) Is there a need to increase the entry level salaries of teachers and to increase the
salary stipends at each level?
(4) Should a merit pay plan serve as a supplement to a basic salary schedule or should it
be an alternative?
(5) Can the concept of merit pay work in the 1980s and beyond when it has not had a
solid history of success in districts where it has been attempted?
(6) Can a plan be devised that will earn the support of teacher groups?
(7) Will merit pay plans be counterproductive in that they may have disruptive effects
on teacher morale and performance?
(8) Can an objective evaluation system of teachers be developed?
(9) Will the state and local districts be willing to assume the additional costs associated
with merit pay plans?
(10) Can fair evaluations be made among teachers of different grade levels, subject areas
and ability levels of children?
(11) Is money the sole motivation for improved teacher performance?
(12) When inflation rates have exceeded six percent or more in recent years, will the
actual merit increase be minimal?
(13) Who will decide which individuals and how many should receive merit pay?
(14) Will merit pay have any effect on the performance of tenured, incompetent teachers
in that removal of tenured faculty is an involved, costly process?
(15) Won't all parents and children want access to the distinguished teachers? How does
one decide who will be enrolled in classes taught by distinguished teachers? Will the
distinguished teacher be relocated to schools in the more affluent sections of a district?
Merit Pay: A Proposal Whose Time Has Arrived
In order to attract capable young people, it is essential that the starting salaries for a
beginning teacher be reasonably competitive with the starting salaries earned by graduates
in other career fields. Numerous college students who can and do want to teach never enter
the field because the salaries at the bottom of the scale are too low to support a home,
family and other living expenses. The entry level salary question must be addressed if merit
plans are to work. If the beginning salary is too low, any subsequent merit system is
probably doomed to failure.
Teachers who enter the field must also feel that there is an opportunity for career ad-
vancement. Able young teachers soon observe that both maximum effort and no effort at all
seem to produce the same results-at least as far as pay is concerned. In most schools the
only avenue open for the financially ambitious person is to seek certification as a principal
or superintendent. While good administrative leadership is necessary for public schools,
this process causes a "brain drain" from the classroom to the administrative office. Many
skilled teachers also leave the classroom for better paying jobs in business and industry.
In developing merit systems, a number of complex issues must be addressed and solved
if there is to be any hope for success. An examination of some of these is in order.
Issue: Will Teacher Groups Support Merit Pay?
Comment: There is some evidence, in spite of strong union opposition, that teacher sup-
port can be obtained for merit systems if the teachers are involved in the planning from the
very beginning of the process. Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander's "Master Teacher"
plan met immediate opposition from teacher associations because he informed these groups
about his proposal only a few hours before he made it public. This quick announcement
was probably a tactical error because research studies in group dynamics provide clear
indications that groups will work toward goals that group members have helped to develop.
No plan should be developed hastily in an atmosphere of legislative deadlines and angry
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/m1/8/: accessed April 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Education.