Merit Pay and teaching-- a cautionary tale from the corporate world
My husband, the Sweet Baboo, is a manager at Mammoth Defense Corporation, and he's been busily working on year-end performance reviews, which are then tied to raises for his staff. A couple of weeks ago, he got finished with his first drafts, set them aside and then looked them over.
"The evaluations are too high," Baboo sighed, setting down his laptop with a sigh filled with weariness. "They're gonna get tossed back at me by Ms. Abderite*, my supervisor, and I will be forced to revise some of them downward."
"Do you think you were too nice in your evaluations? Are you being dispassionate and objective?" I asked, although, being married to the man for two decades, I knew better.
"Of course I am. I work my staff hard. My unit productivity is the highest in the division. But I believe in rewarding great effort and assessing it honestly," Baboo explained. "That's why my employee satisfaction numbers are also the highest in the division, even accounting for the poisonous influence of Ms. Abderite."
"Then why the fuss? If you are being honest, why should you be forced to do that? And isn't that screwing over those employees who get a lower evaluation-- and raise-- than they deserve?" I asked, pulling the wrapper off the newspaper. The Business section popped out first. “Mammoth Defense Negotiation Team demands concessions in taxes, benefits,” the first headline trilled. The subhead whispered, “Executive compensation package increased—“Managers must be retained in time of restructuring,” CEO says.”
"Because Ms. Abderite uses a bell curve called Bonus Integrand Resources Diagram for all evaluations. I am only allowed to have so many top ratings, and if I have more, then she’s gonna flip me the BIRD and make me revise downward."
"What?? People still use the bell curve? Why is this considered valid?" I yelped.
"Because we are only given so much money for employee raises, and the MD Corporation sets the amount of the raise based on the Final Annual Rating Table. If I have too many top performers, that costs too much money, and it sets off alarm bells up at Corporate.”
“So because you have put together a great team, hired great people, and they have performed wonderfully, almost everyone will get a LOWER raise than if they were on a lower-performing team or under a better boss than Ms. Abderite?”
“Yes, that’s basically it,” Baboo grunted. “And then, my rightfully resentful staff will start looking for other jobs where they can get the recognition they deserve, where they will stand out more obviously as being exceptional—not to mention the added bonus of escaping Ms. Abderite. Then, when performance goes down, I will be called upon the carpet by Ms. Abderite and screamed at for losing so many good employees.” Baboo stood up. “Let’s go watch ‘Lost’ and forget about this.”
I got up to follow him after I turned over the paper to the news section. “Opt-in period completed for Denver teacher ProComp plan,” popped out at me. I hope that the same mindset doesn’t take over in Denver. But tax money is always more limited as a source of revenue than defense contracts, with their guaranteed profit percentages. What will happen at Lake Wobegon Middle School? Will all teachers be justly compensated? If so, it’ll be a first.
In some states, the only way a teacher can make a decent wage is to get National Board certification. I’ve known some absolutely cracked-up teachers who have managed to get this credential, and the scars they inflicted upon their students lingered even after graduation. I like my boss and I know he likes me in a vague, distant pat-the-nice-doggy kind of way, but if he was able to determine a raise for me, I’m not too sure he could name three specific things that I do in my classroom—my last observation lasted 15 minutes, and my post-observation conference was done by his secretary after being rescheduled three times due to some emergency. I’ve been recruited for years to become an administrator, and if I ever move back to my hometown, I may just do it even though my heart is with the kids and with those Eureka moments you only get in the classroom. It’s the only way I could make an actual living.
My students score well on their state tests, but the only reason why I know that is that I break out my students’ scores from the rest of the population every year so that I’ll know where I screwed up for next year. My AP scores are pretty high, especially considering the socioeconomic spectrum from which we draw. Even though I hate the thought of using student scores for raises—so many variables completely out of my control, not the least of which that many of the kids have realized that they have absolutely nothing at stake if they blow off the tests-- we all know that’s what would happen with merit pay. That, or my charming colleague Mr. Toady would be the richest teacher in school, since he LIVES in the principal’s office. I’m too busy grading papers, preventing altercations, and writing curriculum, damn it.
But my hubby’s experience gives me pause for another reason.
*-from the ancient Greek. Look it up.