Michigan school districts violating teacher merit pay law

Robby Soave Reporter
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Some 80 percent of Michigan school districts still compensate teachers based on seniority and credentials alone, even though state law mandates significant consideration of classroom performance.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy reviewed 104 teachers’ union contracts and determined 81 of them did not tie salaries to teacher performance. The contracts document Michigan school districts’ failure to follow the law, according to Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center.

“Teachers are paid the same way they’ve been paid for decades … according to how many years on the job they have and how many academic credentials they’ve accumulated,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

In 2010, Michigan approved a law requiring job performance to be a significant factor in determining teacher compensation. The law was part of the state’s attempt to qualify for a grant under the federal Race to the Top initiative, which rewarded states for implementing education reforms.

Among the minority of school districts that do consider merit when making pay decisions, several award only trifling bonuses to high-performing teachers. Two such districts — Davison Community Schools and Stephenson Area Schools — have a max merit pay award of exactly $1. They did not respond to requests for comment.

Districts that award $1 to high-performing teachers and call it merit pay are “thumbing their nose at the legislature,” according to Van Beek.

“The ones that have done something related to merit pay, most of them are providing a very small bonus that really is peanuts compared to what they are paid for based on their years of experience and academic credentials,” said Van Beek.

In only three districts was the max award more than $1,000. The 2010 law calls for merit pay to be a significant factor in a teacher’s salary.

Merit pay has become a contentious political issue. While both President Obama and Mitt Romney support merit pay, teachers unions—including the National Education Association, which has donated millions of dollars to Democratic candidates—firmly oppose it. Chicago public school teachers launched a major strike last month for the chief purpose of opposing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to tie teachers’ salaries to their students’ test scores.

But Michigan may demonstrate that even if merit pay were legally mandated, it might still meet with resistance.

“This requires [school districts] to change the way they have compensated their teachers for decades and the way the unions want their teachers to be compensated, so yes they are going to face implementation problems,” said Van Beek.

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