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Merit pay remains a bone of contention among teachers
NEW YORK -- Merit pay for teachers, now at the center of educational debate, is turning into a divisive issue.
Recently, it was the focus of a contentious policy-making meeting in Chicago of the largest teacher's union, the National Education Association.
On Wednesday, the 2.5 million-strong NEA, long opposed to merit pay as capricious and subject to abuse, reiterated its position. A statement from the meeting said merit pay or any other system of compensation based on an evaluation of a teacher's performance was "inappropriate."
Is it fair?
In New York, a group of teachers in summer school, learning from experts how to be better at their craft, weighed in on the subject. Asked what they thought about teacher bonuses, they all raised their hands against them.
Of concern is the issue of fairness.
"If you are going to give merit pay to one teacher, then you should give merit pay to all of the teachers who helped that child succeed," said Sonia Beckford, a middle school teacher.
There also is concern over the prospect of negative competition.
"Just imagine if there are teachers who get better pay. Therefore, the parents are going to see them as better teachers," said Lia Gelb, the former dean of Bank Street College in New York. "Then they are gonna try to get their kids into those classrooms. I mean, the kind of competition and backbiting that can potentially happen in school is really destructive."
In addition, some educators say they worry that bonuses would force teachers to focus only on teaching children how to test well.
But supporters of the merit pay concept say otherwise.
Jeanne Allen, of the Center for Education Reform, said, "The bottom line is paying a teacher for how much she adds to the value of a child, how much she or he is able to teach a child, is precisely the kind of thing that does work in every other business in private industry."
Issue divides Bush, Gore
Even the presidential hopefuls are having their say on the subject.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive GOP nominee, proposes $400 million in new funds for merit pay to be given out to the states.
Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee, doesn't support merit pay but is researching his own plan for financial rewards for teachers.
Teachers, feeling beleaguered, may already face an uphill battle to get recognized for the work they do every day.
Now, some worry that competition for bonuses may end up dividing their profession at a time when they need to be most unified.
Low salaries lead some teachers to consider bonus systems
National Education Association
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