Merit-pay education “reformers” miss the real problem

People who fancy themselves as education “reformers” and persist in advocating for “merit pay” for teachers – that is, singling out a relative handful of teachers for higher pay based largely on student test scores or some other data-driven hoop they can jump through – are missing the real problem.

Here is the real problem, and it has several, inter-related parts:

# Virtually all of Texas’ 350,000 or so school teachers are underpaid.

# Thirty-nine percent are so underpaid that they have to take extra jobs during the school year to meet their families’ needs.

# Their modest salaries are further eroded by rising health insurance premiums, now averaging $359 a month.

# The state of Texas underfunds public education so badly that these same teachers, on average, spend $738 a year on classroom supplies for which they are not reimbursed.

# Their pay is so bad that anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of the teachers have quit or will quit the profession by the time they finish their fifth year in the classroom.

Singling out a handful of these teachers for “merit” pay is not going to solve this problem. Every school child deserves a “high-quality, effective teacher,” the would-be reformers say. They have Gov. Greg Abbott’s ear, but they ignore the fact that hundreds of effective teachers are leaving Texas classrooms every year for more financially rewarding professions. And these departing teachers would have become even more effective if they had been paid enough to stay.

Like “reformers,” teachers have families and bills to pay, and you can’t pay the rent or the mortgage or the grocery bill on dedication alone.

For the first time in a long time, some legislative leaders are actually talking about giving every teacher a real pay raise this year. A Senate bill, if enacted and fully funded, would give every teacher a $5,000 annual raise to be paid for by the state. This would be a positive step toward making up the $7,300 that the average teacher salary in Texas lags behind the national average.

Is it enough? Not really. But it may be enough to keep many effective and soon-to-be-even-more effective teachers in the classroom who otherwise would be walking out the door at the end of this school year.

And that would benefit more school children than any selective “merit pay” plan being conjured up by “reformers.”

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