Public schools – the backbone of our state’s educational system – are just that, public, offering opportunities to millions of kids, regardless of family income – or lack thereof. We all know that, right?
But I get a little concerned (annoyed may be more accurate) every time someone in officialdom starts comparing the public schools – or any other component of government, for that matter – to capitalism or the corporate world. The latest example is Abilene ISD Superintendent Heath Burns, quoted today in the Abilene ReporterNews defending merit pay for teachers, despite a new study (at least the second in less than a year) showing that merit pay doesn’t work.
“I would say one of the foundations of capitalism is that the highest performers earn higher wages,” Burns said. “I think it’s unfortunate that hasn’t been a common practice in public education, and I am pleased that public education is moving in that direction.”
Burns, however, is not engaged in capitalism. He is the superintendent of the Abilene Independent School District, not Abilene ISD, Inc.
Burns does have a duty to his school board and the taxpayers to apply sound business practices to the administration of public education, practices assuring that tax dollars aren’t wasted and that taxpayers are getting the best product – welleducated kids – for their investment.
Merit pay, however, is not a sound business practice for the public schools, according to researchers.
This week, researchers at Vanderbilt University who spent three years studying a merit pay plan in the Nashville school system concluded that teacher bonuses as high as $15,000 didn’t improve math scores for their students. They determined that the teachers in the study didn’t need the lure of bigger paychecks to perform at their best.
In a similar study released last fall, researchers from Vanderbilt, Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri concluded that the meritbased Texas Educator Excellence Grant (TEEG) program had no impact on TAKS reading scores in Texas. The TEEG, which had been championed by Gov. Rick Perry, has been discontinued. But it has been replaced with another merit plan, the District Awards for Teacher Excellence (DATE), which some districts, including Abilene, are using.
Texas needs to increase teacher pay, but not through dubious “merit” plans. In a blog post yesterday, I noted that teachers are in the classroom because they want to educate kids, not because they plan to get rich. I also noted that teachers who decide they can no longer afford to teach will soon try something else.
Some even may choose to ascend the pay ladder by becoming superintendents.