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We Have Merit Pay at the Collegiate Level

Here’s a letter that I sent today to the head of my local school board.

Ms. Kathy L. Smith
Chairman, Fairfax County Public Schools

Dear Ms. Smith:

I write as a Fairfax County resident and taxpayer to report on how you can save the Fairfax County Public School system – and, hence, Fairfax County residents – millions of dollars annually.

In a letter in today’s Washington Post
, former Fairfax County Federation of Teachers president Rick Nelson insists that merit pay for teachers will not result in better teaching.  In other words, the prospect of higher pay will not prompt teachers to perform better in the classroom.  Briefly, teachers don’t respond to monetary incentives, or monetary incentives are so easy to game that using such incentives causes more harm than benefit.

Curious, that.  But, Mr. Nelson being a faithful representative of K-12 teachers in Fairfax, we must presume that he knows of what he speaks.

So if teachers do not respond positively to the prospect of higher monetary rewards, they are unlikely to respond negatively to the prospect of lower monetary rewards.  Alternatively, if the problem with merit pay is that measuring teacher performance is simply too difficult, then we can conclude that Fairfax teachers now are as likely to be doing a truly lousy job at educating children as they are to be doing an excellent job at this task.  (Indeed, if performance can’t be monitored, then chances are the teachers are doing a lousy job.  After all, why put forth effort if worthwhile results of your effort – or lack thereof – are undetectable?)

Either way, cutting teachers’ pay is unlikely to reduce the quality of education supplied in the County schools.  If teachers aren’t motivated by money, then they’ll work just as diligently at lower pay as they will at higher pay; if cutting pay will, in fact, cause some teachers to quit, their replacements are likely to perform no worse than them.

Having a fiduciary duty to run Fairfax County schools as efficiently as possible, you therefore are duty-bound to slash teachers’ salaries by ten, twenty, even fifty percent or more.  Fairfax Country residents will receive welcome relief from a heavy tax burden and our children will continue to receive the same quality of classroom instruction for which the FCPS system is famous.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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