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Merit Pay for Teachers Debated

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Washington--Both the executive director of the Council for Basic Education (CBE) and a representative of the National Education Association (NEA) agreed during a debate last week that pay-incentive plans for master teachers have not worked in the past because they were often used to discriminate against rather than reward teachers.

But A. Graham Down of the CBE and Helene Gerstein of the NEA disagreed on the question of whether such plans can work in the future.

"My board members evaluate me and they also evaluate the performance of all other professional members on our staff," said Mr. Down during a session sponsored by the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies. "There must be some rational way of evaluating teachers."

"Up until now, the determination of who is a 'good' or a 'bad' teacher has been more subjective than objective," countered Ms. Gerstein. "We are not against all merit-pay plans. What we are saying is that we have yet to see a plan that is truly objective."

According to Mr. Down, merit pay is "a loaded term colored by the failures of the past." Principals, he said, "were allowed to discriminate against teachers rather than reward the truly deserving."

"But today we have too many teachers who are not encouraged, who have no incentives to excel," he continued. Merit pay, if distributed in an equitable manner, would "introduce some sort of antidote for the current litany of disincentives."

According to Ms. Gerstein, many of the "widely-publicized failures" of the public schools have wrongly been laid at the feet of the teaching force.

Shortly after the "Sputnik crisis" of the late 1950's, she said, "for the first time we saw a truly national curriculum-reform movement."

Traditional curriculum materials and teaching methods were abandoned and then replaced, largely without consultations with teachers, Ms. Gerstein said.

"But at the same time, another important factor did not change--testing methods," she continued. "The tests still emphasized skills that were no longer being taught in the schools."

Special Populations

Shortly thereafter, schools were required to begin teaching "economically and politically motivated" courses, such as sex education and consumer education, and also to pay special attention to special populations such as the disadvantaged, she said.

"I repeat, teachers had little or no word in what was being taught or how it was to be taught," Ms. Gerstein said.

The NEA has advocated single-salary schedules for teachers because, ''until they were put into place, teachers were paid more simply because they were male, married, or members of the 'right' race," she said. "We would certainly advocate across-the-board pay increases for all teachers to at least bring them up to the same level as those professionals with an equivalent amount of education."--tm

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