Thursday, September 10, 2009

Matt Yglesias and Merit Pay for Teachers

Yglesias is obviously one of the most influential progressive voices on the internet, but I find him quite susceptible to right-wing talking points about certain issues, especially education and labor. On these two issues, he shows every sign of never having to have thought about how to pay his rent or worry about material possessions at all and of having attended elite schools his entire life where the teachers were great and gave him every advantage.

When he writes about education and labor together, disaster results.

In a series of posts, (here, here, and here) he's talked about the need for merit pay for teachers. Merit pay is something that conservatives constantly talk up to fight against teacher unions. And in a rhetorical sense, it works--who oppose getting paid more if you do a good job? Hell, I would support that if it made sense in the real world. The problem is this--who decides who is doing a good job? We see over and over again in the real world workplace that those pay raises go to workers who tow the company line, rat out other workers to management, are friends with the boss, etc. Sexual favors for merit raises are hardly unknown.

Let's say I am teaching high school history in a conservative part of the country. I am not going to teach a conservative history. Some parents don't like me very much. I'm a pain in the ass for the principal because they call her. But I'm doing one hell of a job teaching history. I'm getting the kids interested, I'm trying new methods, I'm doing all sorts of audio-visual things, I'm making history alive for these kids. Do I get a merit raise? Hell no. The person getting the merit raise is the assistant football coach teaching down the hall from me who helped take the team to the playoffs last year.

If there was some objective way to give merit raises, I think lots of people would support them. But there's not. It gives tons of power to management. What bugs me about Yglesias on this issue is that he's so blind to this obvious fact, despite literally hundreds of people screaming it in his face (or at least on his blog). Everyone even remotely revolved with labor and education knows this to be true, but he won't listen or even begin to deal with these facts. On these issues, Yglesias very much reminds me of the close-minded conservative writers we all can't stand. It's really quite depressing.

All of this doesn't even get into issues of test scores as the judge of teacher competence, the value of teaching degrees, and issues of seniority. I'm happy to slam Yglesias on this too, but I'll desist for now unless someone wants to hear more.