Merit Pay in Mattawan

For coaches, not teachers

Some research suggests that rewarding instructors on the basis of student performance improves outcomes. The Mattawan school board and teachers union agree — but only if the “instructors” are coaches and the “subject” is football or another sport. The district’s teachers’ union contract gives coaches bonuses for each state tournament victory their teams win.

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Specifically, head coaches get $100 per win plus $50 more for each extra team practice, and assistant coaches get $75 and $40, respectively.

Mattawan’s teachers, however, are paid like assembly-line workers — they all get the same pay based on years on the job and accumulated college credits.

Many teachers have understandable concerns about merit pay based solely on student standardized test score performance. Among other things, they argue there are too many factors outside an individual teacher’s control to make this fair. But the same could be said about football coaches and teams, too.

Granted, bonuses for coaches are a long way from a genuine performance-based school compensation system. When done properly, merit pay for teachers is based on a number of factors, not just raw test scores. Pay should also vary based on demand for particular subjects, with more going to those able to teach in the “STEM”-related fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

But in the end, teachers who demonstrably raise student achievement on a consistent basis would get more. And eventually, those who consistently underperform would be paid nothing, because they would be dismissed.

In other words, real merit pay would scrap the rigid “single salary schedule” and “tenure” provisions that protect the incompetent at the expense of the invaluable. Compensation decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis, as is the norm for most professionals.

Michigan schools are supposed to be moving in this direction already. A law passed in 2010 requires districts to “maintain a method of compensation for its teachers and school administrators that includes job performance and job accomplishments as a significant factor in determining compensation and additional compensation.”

Mattawan football coach bonuses demonstrate that the school board and union understand that incentives matter. They should apply the same understanding to the much more critical mission of educating students.

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