A Perfect World Without Merit
Joseph Buffardi, of Cranston, believes that introducing the concept of merit to teachers’ career advancement is a utopian idea:
In a perfect world, one could make a case for instituting merit pay for teachers. But this is not a perfect world.
As a public-school faculty member for over 30 years, I will grant that not all administrators are unscrupulous. However, give that kind of control and decision-making power to some administrators, and the door is open for favoritism, patronage, fraternization, discrimination, cronyism, political maneuvering, and manipulation by management — causing on-the-job discord among teachers concerned with individual performance.
Buffardi glosses over two related considerations. The first is that public schools don’t exist for the purpose of providing teachers with a harmonious workplace. We should all prefer teachers to be content with their lot, because professional satisfaction surely results in better teaching, but they aren’t the first concern when it comes to education. The students are.
The second consideration is that the environment in which those students learn is ultimately the administrators’ responsibility, and they are not unaccountable if their shenanigans affect the children’s education. Perhaps some teachers are uncomfortable with such duties, but as a group, they have shown no fear of raising issues with the local community, and it is part of their job to make a case when they see things going awry.
Even if merit becomes a euphemism of favoritism, I’m not persuaded that rivalry, even a little bit of divisiveness, among teachers wouldn’t ultimately benefit the students. The “healthy group dynamic” that Buffardi praises can manifest as mob groupthink. Moreover, his subsequent assertion that “it’s no secret that an unscrupulous principal can hand-pick teachers and parents to form a rubber-stamp committee” casts doubt on the actual state of the “group dynamic.”
Teachers wary of merit need insist only that such rewards be placed on top of reasonable union-negotiated raises. That Buffardi characterizes functional merit-based systems as the stuff of fantasy makes audible an interesting philosophical echo of the recent spelling bee fracas in Lincoln. There, administrators claimed to interpret “no child left behind” as synonymous with “no child gets ahead.” Given that mentality in the public school system, opposition to merit pay sounds a bit like a “no teacher left behind” policy.