No TAK$ Bonus: Teacher Rewards Need a Broader Foundation
Thursday, February 3, 2005
Most human beings like money and are willing to work harder to get more of it. There's nothing wrong with that. However, the more money involved and the narrower the criteria according to which it is distributed, the more likely it is that some people will cheat.
That's true of Olympic athletes. It's true of stockbrokers. It's true of corporate CEOs. There's no reason to think it's not true of teachers and school principals.
That's why legislators who favor a bonus system for teachers need to tie the bonuses to something broader and more nuanced than students' performance on a single test, the annual statewide TAKS exam.
Cheating already happens. This newspaper has reported widespread statistical evidence that suggests cheating in hundreds of Texas schools. The Houston and Dallas districts are investigating those scores and have beefed up security for the next round of TAKS testing.
Most teachers and administrators don't cheat and wouldn't consider cheating. But for a person who is struggling to get by on the average Texas teacher's salary of $40,000 a year, a $5,000 bonus is not a negligible temptation.
We don't buy all the teachers unions' arguments against merit pay – for instance, that it is inherently so political that it's unacceptable. Yes, the subjective judgment of principals would affect teachers' raises – but what profession is immune from boss subjectivity? With a sound grievance process and firm leadership by school boards, a merit pay system could be fair and productive.
So, by all means, let's talk about how to reward teachers who truly deliver an exceptional quality of education. But let's not make their reward contingent on a single event whose results can easily be manipulated.
After all, if enough moolah is riding on a single roll of the dice, somebody will try to load them.