Bruno: Merit Pay Isn't "Corporate Reform"
Diane Ravitch has a long piece up criticizing President Obama for the apparent mismatch between his education rhetoric and education policy agenda. She makes a lot of arguments - some of which I agree with and some of which I don't - but her points against teacher merit pay in particular jumped out at me.
Ravitch rightly points out two of the most conspicuous failed merit pay experiments, but I think she actually misses one of the most underrated arguments against such pay schemes: namely, that most employers seem to think they're not a great idea.
If performance pay was a good idea for teachers, you'd expect similar kinds of incentive schemes to be fairly common among employers, especially in the private sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, "incentive-paid workers" - i.e., "those who receive some portion of their earnings based on sales or output, rather than a unit of time such as an hourly rate or monthly salary" - constitute only 5% of the private workforce.
Now I'm not one to assume that the private sector always perfectly represents the ideals of efficiency. It's hard to see, however, how you can reconcile the supposed virtues of teacher merit pay schemes with the fact that private employers seem not to care for them. The rarity of add-on incentive pay schemes also raises the question of why teachers, almost alone among U.S. employees, should be singled to work under them.
Of course, the traditional teacher salary schedule is itself somewhat anomalous in its rigidity and should probably be reformed. When reformers propose merit pay as a solution, however, they're typically proposing something that is in its own way just as unusual.
One of the reasons I don't like the phrase "corporate reform" is that it concedes too much of the argument, as if the proposed reforms have demonstrated their efficacy in the private sector and it only remains to be seen if they will work as well in schools. Frequently, however, this is demonstrably not the case.
Merit pay isn't a "corporate" reform at all. In fact, corporations seem not to think much of it.
- PB (@MrPABruno) (Image source)