Ideas know no borders, so when the Alberta education minister, Jeff Johnson, suggested that merit pay would attract the best teachers to the province, teachers in B.C. sat up and took notice.
“I would be surprised if teachers in Alberta would support merit pay. I know teachers here would not support it,” said Michele Wiebe, president of the Peace River North Teachers Association (PRNTA).
“Merit pay is based on standardized test scores. This is very harmful to public education because it focuses attention on the most narrow and shallow of student learning. The Peace River North Teacher’s Association opposes merit pay for teachers.”
For many teachers, addition pay is not a very good motivator, according to Lorraine Mackay, president of the Peace River South Teachers Association.
“Merit pay isn’t really an incentive because where we actually get out joy and our reward is from working with kids. (It) frustrates a lot of teachers that people actually think that they’re in it for the money because we’re not in it for the money,” said Mackay.
While it was rejected by the Alberta Teachers Association last week, the idea could take hold when the current B.C. teachers contracts expire on June 30, 2013.
In the last round of bargaining, the employer association [BCPSEA] was interested in the idea of performance reviews for teachers to provide feedback which, according to the ministry of education.
“When you’re looking at pay based on standardized testing of students, it’s really an unfair marker as to how teachers are teaching in the classroom – based on how students perform on these standardized tests. For example, how would you compare standardized tests for a music teacher compared to a woodworking teacher, how would you compare Home Ec to an English department? It’s just not comparable,” said Wiebe.
Mackay agreed that basing pay on performance would be difficult.
“How do you determine student achievement? If you all have the same number of students with the same abilities I guess perhaps then you might be able to set some measurement format up, but there no two classes that are the same, there are not two students that are the same,” explained Mackay.
Mackay also added that deciding on a method of measuring in itself would be hard to do.
“Are you going to measure an improvement of a student overall during the year? Are you going to measure them across what an average students looks like? What happens if in that particular year, you have high achieving students or if you have a group of low achieving students?” asked Mackay.
In 2011, Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon brought up the idea of merit for the B.C. education system.
“When he [Falcon] was talking about running for the Liberal leadership, he actually came up with merit pay as one of his suggestions and it got soundly shut down. People were opposed to it and he actually got quite a bit of flack over it,” said Mackay.
When merit pay is brought into the picture, it can create competition between teachers, according to Mackay.
“How do you decide who’s the better teacher? It becomes very subjective in deciding which teacher will or will not get the merit pay,” she said.
Being offered additional money based on performance could be something that doesn’t even affect some professionals.
“There’s been lots of research that says merit pay actually isn’t an incentive for anybody to work hard and it’s not just for teachers but it’s in a variety of different careers or professions, they’ve looked at it and said merit pay doesn’t work because if you reward people, depending on how they set up the program, sometimes what happens is people only work hard enough to get the next reward or sometimes people decide that the reward isn’t enough to put the extra effort in,” said Mackay.
In addition to the research, both Wiebe and Mackay explained that for most teachers, the profession isn’t about the money. It’s about working and helping children learn.
“They don’t see money as the reward, they see student learning as the reward, it’s not anything to do with the money,” explained Wiebe.
“We’re in it to help kids and to work with kids and educate kids,” Mackay added.
“We aren’t just pushing widgets out ... trying to push kids through the education system, we’re actually there to help kids become life-long learners, good citizens in our democratic society.”