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Education Opinion

It’s Hypocritical to Demand Merit Pay for Teachers

By Walt Gardner — October 05, 2011 1 min read

Misunderstanding contentious issues in education is common among those who have never taught, as an op-ed about merit pay for teachers written by FranTarkenton, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants, illustrates (“What if the NFL Played by Teachers’ Rules?” Oct. 3).

Tarkenton argues that if each player’s salary were based on seniority, rather than on performance, “the on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt?” He claims that “the NFL in this alternate reality is the real-life American public education system. Teachers’ salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job - excellence isn’t rewarded, and neither is extra effort.”

I suppose the only reason the essay was published was that it was written by a football legend. Otherwise nothing that Tarkenton said is new. But rather than address his remarks about performance pay for teachers, which I’ve done in previous posts, I prefer a different approach. It involves examining the assertion that in the private sector only success is rewarded.

The New York Times published a news story that flatly refutes this claim (“Outsize Severance Continues for Executives, Even After Failed Tenures,” news article, Sept. 29). The lede (journalism spelling for the first sentence) said it succinctly: “The golden goodbye has not gone away.” The article went on to cite the $13.2 million in cash and stock given to Leo Apotheker, who was fired after a disastrous 11-month tenure as head of Hewlett-Packard.

Apotheker is not alone. Carol Bartz received nearly $10 million from Yahoo after being ousted as its head, and Robert Kelly took home $17.2 million in cash and stock when he was cashiered as CEO of Bank of New York Mellon. Many chief executives continue to be given seven- or eight-figure severance packages, according to James F. Reda & Associates, an executive compensation consulting firm.

Tarkenton insists there is accountability in the private sector, but he is mute about these golden parachutes. The truth is that those at or near the top in corporate America can make more money in a year in spite of their performance than teachers can make in a lifetime in the classroom.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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