Editorial: Less merits with merit pay than one would expect

Recently, the Associated Press reported on Gov. Sam Brownback’s newest education push: merit pay.

His idea is to ?really try to incent paying really good teachers.?

The thought is a simple one: give better teachers more money.

The governor holds that school funding levels are adequate, but how money is distributed needs improving. In the interview, he said he wanted the merit pay idea to bring more money into the classroom and instruction.

Initially, the idea of merit pay sounds like a good one. In private industries, people have incentives for good job performance. Why shouldn’t teaching?

Merit pay could keep good teachers working as opposed to looking for other jobs, where their employment isn’t now based on the whims of local and state governing bodies. Perhaps it could make teachers feel more appreciated rather than being seen as tax-dollar-engulfing takers, as some in the Kansas Legislature contemptuously view them.

And as Brownback puts it, more money would stay in the classroom and out of administrative coffers for districts.

That could mean less money for districts’ general funds.

Perhaps the Newton school district should cancel all field trips and hold them through Skype, as Newton sixth-grade teacher Megan Nagel has pioneered. Now that’s a cost saving initiative that could use some merit pay.

And Walton Rural Life Education Center is having a fundraiser for some new paint for playground equipment. Perhaps the district just holds a few more fundraisers the next time it needs a new bus or building remodel.

We’re being facetious here, but Kansas education isn’t a question that can so easily be answered by the latest political fad.

The problem with merit pay isn’t the idea that good teachers deserve more money. There are a good number of Kansas teachers who deserve better pay. It could explain the state’s problem recruiting and retaining teachers and the reason Missouri school districts are putting up signs along the highway advertising open teaching positions.

The problem with merit pay isn’t getting more dollars into the classroom. Year after year of budget cuts, or ?decreases on increases? as some politicians like to put it, have trimmed away a lot of fat and, in our opinion, a good bit of meat as well. The Kansas Supreme Court continues to rule that Kansas schools are underfunded. And even if state legislators had the impetus to get more money to school districts, there is no money in state coffers thanks to the governor’s ?Great Tax Experiment.?

No, the problem with merit pay is how dollars are distributed. How does one determine merit? On student improvement? Would there be more tests for teachers to teach to in a way of securing a few dollars more?

Would it do so by only evaluations, creating a sort of ?Hunger Games? scenario with educators jockeying for the best reviews in order to get better pay?

Or would it look at how many students have high grades or go on to college?

The concept of merit pay leaves many questions and unforeseen consequences.

It opens up issues like the Atlanta, Georgia, school district where teachers participated in a cheating ring to increase test scores and get bonuses.

And it could punish good teachers for being willing to take jobs at underprivileged locations, since the education and improvement of students with stable home lives and economic backgrounds is a bit easier. Education would continue to grow less equal in Kansas.

Merit pay assumes teachers have control over their students, their students’ talent levels, their students’ parents, their students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and all the issues going around their students in the community. That simply isn’t the case. Students are not uniform boxes. Public education shouldn’t be run as a factory.

So while we do agree with Brownback saying we need more money in the classroom, we think legislators should start by figuring out a stable school funding formula that satisfies state constitutional requirements and doesn’t chase ideological gimmicks at the cost of Kansas children and educators.

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