Professionalization and Merit Pay

RELATED TO Site Based Management is the notion of teacher professionalization, a general term attributed to policies that expand the teacher's ability to control grading and evaluation policy, organizational decision making, staff development and peer assistance. Teachers have long had the reputation as being severely underpaid and underappreciated compared to other professions. As noted at the beginning of this report, teacher salaries are only expected to rise 3% in the next decade. This lack of respect and compensation has taken its toll on the morale of many educators, leading to early burnout or unwillingness to experiment with new teaching styles. The idea behind professionalization is to increase the status of the teacher from employee to educational professional. As teachers take on more responsibilities, their salary increases as well, in the attempt of creating the sense of teaching as a "professional" career. In many schools where professionalization is implemented, teachers are also given opportunities to partner with institutions outside of the school, especially universities. These partnerships help teachers foster a sense of contribution to education efforts beyond the local school.

Professionalization proponents claim that the policy adds greater integrity, flexibility and authority to the educator. Yet many teachers have complained that it adds to an already complex and hectic schedule, requiring the educator to take on the roles of counselor, administrator and researcher. When teachers are given the authority to experiment with teaching and outreach methods yet are not given the time to prepare and evaluate the new methodology (training retreats, extra planning periods), professionalization may cause more problems than it solves. In Rochester, NY, for example, district-wide reforms increased salaries dramatically and mandated an expanded role for the educator as counselor and social worker. But no assistance was offered to the teachers - they were expected to adjust to the changes on their own and determine how to add additional parent conferences and home visits to their already-hectic schedules. Many teachers responded that social work was not a part of their profession and refused, and student achievement continued to falter.

Similarly, many school districts have instituted merit pay programs. At the time of the publishing of A Nation at Risk (1983), 28 states offered educators bonuses based on their teaching ability and knowledge of their subjects. By 1986, that number had increased to 46 states. Today, all 50 states have some form of merit pay program, but few experts have argued that this has lead directly to significant improvement in student education.

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