Merit-Based Pay For Teachers

English: NWP teachers at work.

English: NWP teachers at work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Merit-based pay, or performance pay, for teachers has been a hot issue in education for a long time.  It is based on the theory that work performance improves when incentives are given to employees.  Experience has shown, however, that this works better in a factory, for instance, or a store, than in the teaching profession.

Merit pay already exists in many schools in the United Kingdom and the United States of America according to Wikipedia, but there is not much evidence to show that it has led to greater levels of student achievement.  In fact, there is much controversy surrounding this issue.

The Obama administration created the $4.3 billion Race to the Top Fund to encourage states to implement performance pay systems for teachers.  The Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), created by the Milken Family Foundation in 1999 in the USA and the Teacher Incentive Plan, also in use in the USA, are two other merit-based pay systems for teachers.  They all seek to use student achievement as one major criterion for determining teachers’ pay and bonuses.  This approach is seriously flawed.

The problem comes from the fact that it is very difficult to define and measure productivity in the teaching service.  Students’ academic results are not a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness and they represent only one facet of the teacher’s work.

Students are not equal in terms of cognitive ability, motivation or socio-economic status and they are often grouped and  treated accordingly.  A teacher who gets a talented group to teach is not necessarily more successful than a teacher who taught a weaker group, although the test results in the first group will be better.  Teachers do not control all the learning variables.  The students of a poor teacher can produce excellent examination results if they are motivated and compensate for the teacher’s failures by forming study groups, attending private lessons elsewhere or going to other teachers for assistance.  Parental values and involvement can also lead to good test or examination scores when there is deficient teaching.  Good student performance does not always indicate good teaching.


  • Merit pay exists in other professions.
  • Good teachers should be paid more than the others.
  • Teachers will work harder to earn merit pay.
  • The teaching service would attract more brilliant candidates.
  • Teacher turnover would be reduced.


  • Teacher success is hard to define and measure.
  • Teachers will become more selfish and competitive.
  • Teamwork will be reduced.
  • Dishonesty and false reporting of test scores will increase.
  • Principals will be accused of favouritism.
  • Teachers who are not rewarded may feel undervalued and alienated.
  • Disharmony in schools will increase.

I do not support merit-based pay for teachers.  I believe that it would create more problems than it would solve in this country.  Our present system, in which teachers receive the same salary if they share the same academic qualifications, professional training and experience, is a more equitable model and it promotes more harmony and collegiality in schools.

I support the voices that call for increased pay for all teachers.  Teachers are underpaid.  Their salaries do not reflect the importance of their contribution to the development of our society.  I call for greater empowerment of teachers and the creation of more paid middle management positions in the schools.  All teachers should be professionally trained.  This would be a surer path to improved teaching and learning than merit-based pay.  Professional training also brings modest financial rewards.







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