Let's have merit pay for everyone!

Bruce Maples (bruceinlouisville@gmail.com)

Education Czar Wayne Lewis decided to beat his reliable dead horse at Wednesday’s Kentucky Board of Education meeting: merit pay for teachers. Shouldn’t teachers whose students do better on high-stakes testing earn more money?

“There is no incentive right now to be a great teacher,” Lewis told the board.

Of course not! Who’s ever heard of teachers trying to be great because of integrity and love of students? Nonexistent! Teachers work for $6,000 less annually than comparable professionals not because of dedication, but because they can’t do math. As with social work, teaching is called a “caring” profession satirically. Apparently, that’s how Wayne Lewis sees it.

But wait! If Lewis’ idea is so great, why limit it to teachers? Surely, we should apply the same metric to, say, doctors. Oncologists treating Stage 4 cancer patients oversee way more fatalities than allergists. Shouldn’t allergists make more money to reward them for their near-perfect records?

And what about police officers? Police in dangerous neighborhoods have a lot more crime than the officers working in leafy, wealthy suburbs. Shouldn’t those everyday heroes in the suburbs make more money to reward them for keeping those suburban streets safe?

And what about nurses? I’m sure more patients die when being helped in those high-stress emergency rooms than when they get their blood pressure taken on a routine office visit. So shouldn’t that Certified Nursing Assistant make more than the ER nurse?

And even in the education realm, why limit merit pay to teachers? Doesn’t the legislature and the governor have a lot more control over classrooms than a first-year teacher in Barlow, Cadiz, or Harlan? Shouldn’t their salary depend on how much schools improve? I bet if that were the case they’d stop taking an ax to education.

Bevin proposed cutting $198 million from K–12 education in 2018. He likely wouldn’t have done that if his pay literally depended on helping schools instead of working to reroute public education dollars to his Wall Street donors.

Based on this concept of merit pay, shouldn’t a legislator representing wealthy Glenview and Prospect make more than legislators who represent the depleted coalfields of Eastern Kentucky or the dwindling small towns in the western end of the state? There is no incentive right now to be a great legislator!

And whatever we do, let’s not forget the Kentucky Department of Education, of which not a single member is a classroom teacher or has any current ties to public education at all. There’s definitely no incentive there to be a great board member, and I can prove it!

One member, Republican operative Kathy Gornik, proposed “school stamps” to be used at any school, public or private, “like food stamps.” Gornik, a onetime businesswoman, didn’t know that the name for these “school stamps” is vouchers. And that they are unconstitutional. But Gornik didn’t know any of that. According to transparency.ky.gov, Gornik receives a salary of $100 a meeting. Even that token amount is too much if we’re paying for performance.

These suggestions are ridiculous, you say? Of course they are. Once you apply the idea to merit pay for anyone but teachers, it’s obvious how fatuous Lewis’ idea is.

The old joke was that the best way for a teacher to improve her annual evaluation was to transfer to a richer school. Teachers in high-poverty/high-trauma schools will have the highest numbers of behavior problems and the lowest test scores.

They also work the hardest at one of the most stressful jobs in America. Teaching ranks fourth among the 10 most stressful jobs in America, right behind police officers and serving in the military.

But Wayne Lewis, who earns $200,000 a year. wants to pay them the least. Based on this proposal, his performance obviously deserves a failing grade. And, definitely a cut in his pay … due to the lack of merit.


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