Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

[Susan notes: Each writer focuses on a different aspect of the rot that characterizes merit pay.


Published in New York Times

To the editor

Re “Long Reviled, Merit Pay Gains Among Teachers” (front page, June 18):

No matter how it is structured, merit pay is based on the cynical assumption that teachers are either incompetent, lazy or indifferent, and will change only if they are enticed by financial strategies.

But the overwhelming majority of classroom teachers are mostly motivated by an inner sense of pride in their work with children. If money were the primary consideration, they wouldn’t have chosen teaching in the first place. The same applies to their need for fame and power.

If past experience is any guide, today’s proposals for merit pay will do little to improve overall educational quality for children. They’re a lecture from business schools, with limited application to public schools.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, June 18, 2007

The writer taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the U.C.L.A. Graduate School of Education.


To the Editor:

Merit pay is a double-edged sword. While no one objects to better teachers getting rewarded, in practice there are two very good reasons teachers are leery of it.

The first is that it is easily converted by administrators into a system for rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Only a system with a strong element of peer review can overcome this flaw.

But also, a good teacher motivates students, opens their intellectual curiosity and relates his subject to other subjects. This means covering material that is not necessarily covered by mandatory minimum testing.

Teaching exclusively to the tests prevents great teaching. So rewarding teachers for having their classes do well on such standardized tests, which then rewards their administrators in our current New York system, is merit pay without the merit.

The second problem is that merit pay is often a cover for keeping most teachers underpaid, while giving a bonus to the best teachers to keep them from leaving the system for better pay elsewhere. For merit pay to work, and not further demoralize a faculty, it must be truly a merit award, as judged by one’s peers, the only ones who really know how well you teach, and the entire system must have a decent pay scale. Anything else is bureaucratic hypocrisy.

Daniel Greenberger

New York, June 18, 2007

The writer is a professor of physics at the City College of New York.


The article analyzing merit pay for teachers compares the proponents’ view that it would reward good teachers and punish bad, and the fear that it will empower authorities to pay cronies. But really, no consideration is given to the consequences to the children learning in these classrooms.

The first question would be, How would performance be measured? Certainly, testing will be the answer as it so often is. High-stakes testing for No Child Left Behind and other programs base the schools’ evaluations and ultimately the teachers’ and administrators’ jobs on the children’s test performance. No child should be the measure of how an adult is treated because the consequence is devastating to children.

Difficult children will be reviled and rejected as too dangerous for the career. High-performing children will have their own accomplishments corrupted for themselves by the consequences being felt by adults. It imposes too much responsibility upon children, whose only proper job is to do the best they can do and to expect the adults around them to work toward their healthy growth, whatever that is in each child’s case.

Gail Sinai

New York, June 18, 2007

Walt Gardner, Daniel Greenberger, Gail Sinai

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.