A merit-based pay system for BC teachers?
Posted by David Wees on Jan 15, 2011
Sandy Hirtz of CEET BC asked this question over at the CEET BC Ning. "British Columbia Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon says public school teachers should be paid according to their teaching skills, not their length of service or level of professional training. He thinks a merit-based pay system should be implemented. What do you think?" Here is my response. When we think of merit pay, it is an attempt to turn the skills teachers have into a commodity. This works for some other professions because it is easier to attach financial value to what people do. If you work in a profession where your work has a measurable financial impact, you can determine which of your employees has had the greatest financial impact by looking at various factors, including total sales in a marketing or sales profession, number of cases won and settled in law, etc... So it makes more sense to reward your employees for the good work they've put in. If you follow the research Daniel Pink has collected though, you'll find those rewards don't help the people in those professions work better, in some cases it actually hinders their profession. Whether or not merit pay will improve teacher [performance] is a moot question however since there are no obvious financial gains from a teacher who performs well, or at least no gains that one can see in any useful time frame. If we buy the argument that people who are better educated make more money, and that a good teacher leads to better educated students, then over a time-frame of a generation, you could expect to see results if all of your teachers were suddenly better or worse at what they do. In the context of schools though, this just doesn't make sense. (Edit =>) We can't wait a generation to see results and determine if teachers have actually been effective. So instead we are going to use ineffective measures which are not in fact related to the economic impact of good teaching, but are in fact a measure of the "turn them into factory workers" mindset of the 1860s. However, I don't actually think that the goal of merit pay is to pay good teachers more, or to bring an business model to education, I think it is actually intended to be used to pay teachers (overall) less. Essentially, the state controls the test, and
the measures of how well teachers are doing, which means that what teachers are paid is not up to collective bargaining, but instead up to a bunch of factors controlled largely by the education ministry. I'd never want to cede that much control to an organization which has brought us such beauties as standardized testing, and BCESIS.
he case highlights the impact of recent collective bargaining changes on the implementation of performance-based pay in a Canadian business school currently going through the AACSB accreditation process, the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan. It is written from the perspective of a new faculty member who is engaged in a decision-making process surrounding the development of a points-based system designed to allocate merit pay. The process is forcing her to evaluate how she is structuring the allocation of her work, which is directly affecting her motivation toward coaching a student case competition team. Edwards historically used a judgment-based approach to the allocation of merit. The case outlines the rationale used in the design of the new points-based system, discusses the potential advantages and disadvantages, and highlights the perspectives of different stakeholders throughout the process, including the union, the faculty and senior administration at the university, college and department levels. The union is opposed to merit, so has outlined fairly stringent criteria for the awarding of merit in the new collective agreement. Faculty opinion is mixed surrounding merit more generally, and the implementation of a points-based system versus a judgment-based system in particular. Senior university administration is committed to the continuation of the merit system at the university as a tool to reward outstanding performance and to retain star faculty. The individual departments at Edwards are in the midst of finalizing the standards and procedures for allocation of merit-based pay. The protagonist is uncertain about how her department will proceed in the design and allocation of points, and how it will result in her re-allocating her work tasks.
This case can be used in a core undergraduate course in human resource management in units examining pay-for-performance compensation and performance management, or in stand-alone courses in these areas. It may even be more useful for MBA courses or senior level courses in strategic human resource management due to the range and complexity of the issues explored. It also has some potential for use in industrial relations courses if examining union responses to human resource practices generally, and pay-for-performance initiatives in particular. The key learning objective is to have students understand the philosophy behind performance-based incentives, their alignment with organizational objectives and their potential impact on individual performance. The case requires students to engage in critical thinking exercises with regards to
the development of performance metrics for autonomous knowledge workers. The case will be most effective when tied to the teaching of different theories of motivation and/or the importance of aligning HR practices with overall organizational strategy. Potential case exercises include having students identify ways to implement and/or improve upon the pay-for-performance system proposed at Edwards.