Merit Pay and High-Poverty Schools

The News & Observer reported today that the Wake County School Board (Raleigh, NC) is discussing the possibility of applying for a federal grant that would provide pay incentives for teachers at high-poverty schools. The idea of merit pay for public school teachers is an extraordinarily controversial issue, and it is not my intent here to weigh into the merit pay debate. Rather, I propose that we consider the idea of ‘fairness’ that seems to get thrown around a lot in these discussions.

The ‘fairness’ question posed by opponents of merit pay is usually something like this: Is it fair to teachers at low-poverty schools to pay teachers at high-poverty schools a higher salary? Let me say first of all that I think this is an important question to consider. However, this is a question of fairness to teachers. I believe that before any questions of fairness to teachers are considered, we must fully consider how our action or inaction affects the lives of children. That being said, I offer the following ‘fairness’ questions for us to consider:

1. Is it fair to students in high-poverty schools that most teachers wouldn’t even consider teaching at their schools without incentives?

2. Is it fair to students in high-poverty schools that administrators sometimes must resort to hiring less than top quality teachers due to small and/or weak teacher applicant pools?

As always, I would love to hear from you!

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