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COLUMN: Not much merit in 'merit pay' plan for teachers


Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon is quick to dismiss critics of his teachers’ merit-pay proposal – to be enacted should the B.C. Liberals appoint him premier next month – as unclear on his concept.

Most distinctly, he suggests, his plan is not true “merit pay,” basing an individual’s salary on performance. Rather, it would provide cash bonuses to teachers deemed exceptional.

Potato, potahto.

While this distinction seems a tenuous sticking point, Falcon is learned enough to realize the onus is on him to explain how his suggestion – which he says is borrowed from Australia’s left-leaning government, though it coincides with debates among the U.S.’s right-and-righter parties – would work in practice.

The question is clear. How does one determine which teachers are more deserving of our tax dollars?

One common answer is measuring students’ academic improvement.

But while rising grade-point averages in one term would suggest greater learning, what about subsequent terms – after the cream has already risen? Pity the pocketbook of the teacher who starts the year off with a bunch of Grade A all-stars, with nowhere to go but stay the course or (gulp) drop.

How about student and parent feedback? Sure we’d see a lot of kowtowing by some. But would this really result in better classrooms?

Clocking teachers’ extracurricular hours? Not necessarily an accurate measurement of quality teaching, and could be akin to measuring fine dining by the pound.

In defending his plan, Falcon talks about his experiences as a student, and being encouraged by a teacher who got him into history and, subsequently, politics.

How would this have been measurable, had there been a like-minded premier in Falcon’s day? Is such excellence even quantifiable on paper?

Perhaps others have fond memories of teachers who made such a difference – the educator who instilled an appreciation of the arts, the counsellor who nurtured athletic prowess, the principal who saw through a teenager’s bravado and averted a life in crime or a suicide attempt.

Until a well-thought-out argument is put forth, teachers’ remuneration should continue to be negotiated in more traditional ways, with exceptional teachers compensated through the knowledge of a job well done and the occasional pat on the back.

And if Falcon has indeed uncovered a way to measure merit that benefits B.C.’s students, please encourage him to say how.

Otherwise, it reads merely like a ploy to woo support from the party’s conservative hardliners, a vote I suspect Falcon might already take for granted.

Lance Peverley is the editor of The Peace Arch News, a sister paper to The Leader.