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Is teacher merit pay what's best for Michigan?

Teacher at a chalkboard
Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

As the 2012-2013 school year winds down, one of the issues occupying the attention of state lawmakers is teacher pay. In essence: what should determine teacher salaries in Michigan?

A state House panel has approved a plan to tie teachers' pay to student performance. But, as Michigan Public Radio's Jake Neher told us, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they're worried the bill would strip away local control.

Jennifer Rice King, a professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies at the University of Maryland who has studied the impact of performance pay in the Prince George's County public school district in Maryland joined us in the studio along with Scott Moore, the Superintendent of Oscoda Area Schools, where they've had a pay for performance program since 2007. 

"The major problem with basing pay on experience and education level or degrees is that there is very little compelling evidence to show that those credentials are actually linked with teacher performance," said King. "We know that experience over the first five years is linked to performance, but beyond that fifth year we don't see many returns to addition years of experience, but we're paying a lot for additional years of experience. And the same goes for degrees."

But the big question was whether teacher merit pay improves student performance. And is it wise to make this a statewide mandate?

"I can't attribute the success to merit pay in any form of good conscience. I think it's the people that we have that remained through a change initiative that have driven us to be successful," said Moore about his school district. "There's so many external factors that you can't control, from the child's home life all the way down to what textbook you're teaching or what curriculum base you're using."

"Schools aren't all about student achievement," King brought up. "We teach a lot in schools that can't be measured on standardized tests, and we need to recognize those other lessons as very valuable and very important in what we do in education systems, and not let those things get lost in the demand for accountability and the demand for good effectiveness measures."

Cynthia Canty spoke with professor Jennifer Rice King and Superintendent Scott Moore.

Click above to listen to the full interview.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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