B.C. Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon unleashed the wrath of the provincial teachers’ union earlier this week when he said he would reward schools based on student achievement, if he was chosen to be premier. The union quickly dubbed the idea “merit pay” and tore it apart.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the idea isn’t flying in Prince Rupert. Gary Coons, North Coast NDP MLA and a teacher for 28 years, said Falcon’s idea was probably just a trial balloon, “full of hot air.” A teacher for 28 years before becoming a politician, Coons said merit pay is based on old-fashioned models that have no place in the education system.
“Teachers teach from the heart, not from the book,” said Coons. He added that student achievement is only one metric in the otherwise complex and diverse environment known as the classroom.
“I believe it’s a very destructive concept that does nothing but erode the quality of the system,” said Coons.
Meanwhile, Joanna Larson, the president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union, summed up her opinion on merit pay with one word: “ridiculous.”
What Larson takes issue with is that merit pay is based on false assumptions — that teachers aren’t doing a good job so they need some sort of scale that rewards performance to make them better. “It sort of implies they’ll suddenly start working harder if we give them bribes. It’s ridiculous,” she said.
Larson also wondered who would decide which teachers receive merit pay: would it be someone in administration? Or would it be based on test scores? “It brings us back to what is the purpose of public education,” she said. “It’s not something you can easily break down. What we’re doing in our schools is qualitative, not quantitative.”
To find someone even remotely supportive of the merit pay idea, Muskeg News had to go all the way to the Fraser Institute, based in Vancouver and author of the infamous school report cards, an annual performance review of schools in B.C. After these report cards are released, educators within the system usually say they’re useless.
Peter Cowley, the director of school performance studies at the Fraser Institute, did echo some of the concerns of Coons and Larson: namely, that merit pay is not a new idea, and that certain mechanics need to be established before implementing such a system. For merit pay to work, he said goals first need to be established, then measurements need to be created, and standards need to be followed when distributing merit pay to make sure the whole thing is fair & objective.
Still, Cowley said he’s supportive of the idea of merit pay, for any profession. He admitted he didn’t know what Falcon’s plan would be, but he suggested that merit pay be a reward system on top of a base salary. In other words, it should be a bonus in addition to a teacher’s pay, not a commission that would be the sole revenue.
The criticism of Falcon’s plan was made almost as soon as the words left his mouth, and Cowley said the reason for such blowback is the same as the denunciation of the Fraser Institute’s report cards: “entrenched interests” in the education system are happy with the way things are and don’t want them to change, he said.
Cowley said the end goal for any suggestions to improve the education system should be a better outcome for children in schools. “We should at least look at ideas that would likely help us,” he said.
~Written by Chris Armstrong