A Defence of Merit Pay – Teachers’ Skills Quality is what Matters Most

Dear Antonn,

I find your article limited in factual basis and biased towards un-informed common thinking that resists change. Further, you have presented no real or new solutions or alternatives to help solve the crisis in the Jamaican education system. I am being very blunt and will not apologize because children of African descent in Jamaica, the US and other countries are marginalized and tracked to a life of poverty and crime because we maintain archaic systems that were designed to undermine, marginalize, and destroy our people.

Your attack on merit pay shows you have not studied the history and successes of this approach that rewards those who do what they are supposed to do and excel, rather than those who get away with not doing what they must do, are sinecure, and insist on getting paid more, simply because they have “gathered dust” and do not have the required qualifications to teach with contemporary standards the classes they were assigned.

Merit Pay or Pay-For-Performance was developed to professionalize and improve the quality and productivity of the civil service. All research shows that this approach not only achieved intended goals but also has the positive unintended consequence of reducing gender, racial, and socio-economic discrimination in selection and promotion. It was derived from Merit System of the 1800s, which was developed to guard against the patronage or “spoils” system used to fill government jobs (i.e., who you know).

If you accept that corruption dominates Jamaica’s civil service including the education ministry, then you must study how merit-based systems have been used to reduce corruption and improve the delivery of the service to the beneficiaries, our children. Dysfunctions in education are directly related to paying teachers based only on seniority and having any degree. Having evaluated and directly observed many programs and schools in the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach schools districts, I can positively tell you that retaining improperly qualified teachers, who set low expectation for Black students, in particular, and increasing their pay due to seniority, is the main problem.

You claim that there is no universal way to judge the performance of teachers. This I will tell you is utter nonsense. Having taught the high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels, as well as high school equivalency diversion programs for juvenile delinquents, there are clear and established common measures to gauge a teacher’s performance.

Aside from using aptitude and ability test such a norm-referenced testing, as well as competency-based test using criterion-referenced testing, simply asking a student to write a paragraph and perform basic mathematical computations, will tell you a lot about the quality of education he or she received from the teacher. When you study or work in Educational Measurement and Evaluation, your knowledge base of measuring, ranking, and determining adequate academic progress will be greatly widened.

You seem to support the centralization of the educational system with little or no input and/or oversight from students, parents, teachers, and other community stakeholders. It is apparent that you have not studied how successful school boards and districts operate. In effective systems, all stakeholders, especially parents, have the right to help develop, guide, and improve their systems. The key problem with Jamaica is that the “masses” are not afforded the right to select their school board representatives. Patronage or political appointments have severely hampered our progress as we blindly copy command economies and reject the common man’s right to self-determination and progress.

While there are weaknesses in every system, we must not reject change due to fear of the unknown, but collectively agree upon optimal approaches to improve the delivery and quality of our education product. You give credence to the esoteric aspects of teaching, which is good, but if the teacher is not delivering what he or she is paid to do, those aspects are useless. Students who cannot communicate effectively and have little or no knowledge of the course he or she passed with an “A” become not only social costs or burdens to society, but will increase ignorance and eventually destroy Jamaica.

Money is not the cure all. Many will argue that when teachers got little pay and had no choice but to teach under trees with limited resources, they did a better job than those in air-conditioned, Internet-ready, multimedia supported classrooms. The bottom line is: Can Johnny read and adequately exhibit critical thinking skills, and can Jane solve complex math problems, at their grade level expectations? If this is not achieved then we have a recipe for failure regardless of the esoteric aspects of teaching. While the home and community does have an impact on students, it is the quality of the skills teachers transmit in the classroom that matters most. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Richard G. Williams, MSM, Ph.D. Candidate is a Research, Evaluation, and Test Development Specialist in Florida.

     

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