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Topics Homepage> Teachers should be paid on merit rather than tenure

Teachers should be paid on merit rather than tenure

PRO (8 assertions)


Teachers - As elementary and middle school teachers in public schools

Should - As what we would do from a moral and logistical standpoint

Merit pay - Pay based on a value-added analysis

Seniority - Pay based on just showing up to work for a period of years (tenure based pay)

The Peter Principle, a widely recognized sociological truism, states, “In the workplace, every employee will rise to their level of incompetence.”

Rebuttals To:

AT: It would be too hard to rate a teacher and thus be unfair

Shut up. That’s completely hypocritical. Now really, judge. Merit pay is a much fairer system, in that it rewards teachers who are teaching and spending lots of time and extra effort into their jobs, while tenure based pay just pays a teacher, no matter how bad he or she is at teaching, so long as he walks in the door. Heck, the teacher could go to sleep in his classroom and still get paid! Merit pay is much fairer to those teachers who work hard, much fairer to parents and students trying to educate themselves and progress their futures, and much fairer to principals and school officials who want better schools.

AT: Merit pay creates unhealthy competition

Merit-pay models can be designed to encourage collaboration. Collaboration may be one aspect of performance that gets rewarded. Differentiated pay can be awarded to groups of teachers as well as to individuals.

AT: Teachers are not the only influence on kid performance

Merit pay is common in other industries (e.g. in medicine) in which it is difficult to measure individual performance. Although the meaning of high performance is often complex, workers in those fields accept being judged as a necessity. And with our value-added analysis, this wouldn’t be a problem.

AT: No one will want to teach challenging or remedial academics

A focus on gains rather than levels of achievement would address this concern. If student achievement is measured in a value-added sense, teachers may prefer to work where scores are initially lower because there is a lot more room for progress.

AT: Teachers will try to be favorites of principal; biased and favoritism

A master teacher and principal should both be involved in the evaluation. Other measures such as score gains, student attendance and parent surveys should be used in teacher evaluations. There are more than one factors in determining a teacher’s pay

AT: Everyone will teach the same way

Very few professionals can work "as they wish." All face constraints and professional norms. Current salary schedules that reward education credentials also make teachers jump through hoops. The point is to select hoops that are closely tied to student achievement gains.

AT: Only the top performers count_ Many others who work hard will be left out

Merit pay need not be limited to a fixed percentage of the workforce. All teachers can be evaluated for merit pay. In tiered systems, all teachers can move from one level to the next.

AT: We can’t afford it

School districts currently incur major costs from one year to the next simply because teachers have one more year of experience. A large share of payroll is used just to reward seniority or the accumulation of course credits which may have no relationship to performance. We’ll just be using the money that is used now to pay teachers.

AT: Teachers don’t teach for money

Loving one's work and making money are not mutually exclusive. Lawyers, doctors and pilots enjoy their work but still make large salaries. Teachers feel they deserve higher status and, like it or not, in our society, there is a correlation between earnings and status.

AT: Teachers already work hard enough

The current system of earning credits does not reward the gifted teacher who does not need to earn credits to be an exceptional performer. Other occupations reward such individuals without requiring additional investments of their time. True performance-based compensation simply rewards superior teachers for doing a good job.

AT: Public relations nightmare

Administrators would be inconvenienced if the information is public, but it would put pressure on schools to hire and retain the best teachers. Are we better off if information about superior doctors, dentists and lawyers is suppressed even though not everyone has access to them?

AT: Teaching isn’t a business

The private, for-profit sector of education is growing rapidly, calling into question assertions that business practices are incompatible with providing education services.

AT: Hard to impose

Administrators must have the authority to implement pay schemes which they see as representing the best interests of taxpayers, whether or not such schemes are popular with current teachers. 

AT: How we would measure how good a teacher is?

There is a method called a “value-added” analysis, which is a statistical method that estimates the effectiveness of a teacher, can inform teachers who seek to improve how to improve and can also provide a basis for merit pay. We would also use parent, student, and school administration evaluations of the teacher in question to determine their pay in order to get a broader and more overall sense of how a teacher is performing. Also, we would factor in student GPA improvement and standardized test scores. The thing that makes it better than tenure pay is that both the standardized tests and GPA are balanced by actual observations of the teacher to get a better, overall sense of how the teacher is doing.

Just for example, 40% of the salary would be based on grades, 10% would be based on student, parent, and peer evaluation, 40% would be based on subject, logistics, location, etc. 10% would be based on relationships of grades with the previous year’s for the same students. There could also be up to a 10% bonus for continued outstanding performance.

1. Assertion: Americans value hard work and results, and our capitalist system hinges upon rewarding such results

Reasoning: Most professions offer bonuses and salary increases to exemplary employees. So why should teaching be an exception? The fact that an ineffective teacher and a dedicated teacher earn the same salary just doesn’t make any sense compared to the values that make up our American economy: It’s simple; those who work hard get paid more and those who don’t do not get pay raises.

2. Assertion: Incentivizing teachers to work harder with money will produce better results

Reasoning: As of now, teachers have no motivation to go above and beyond their jobs’ basic requirements. And the best motivator would be money. Yes, we do agree that it would be ideal if teachers would just teach for the sake of it and just love teaching and the children they teach, but that is in an ideal world. We live in a real world, where people are motivated by something tangible, called money. Money motivates like nothing else, and if we want our country’s test scores to improve, then merit pay is the obvious solution.

Evidence: In 1969, the idea of merit pay emerged in the U.S. due to the Nixon administration and their belief that school accountability should be made a top priority. So, an experiment was initiated which tied school funding and teacher pay to students’ tests scores in Arkansas. The test scores immediately soared and improved dramatically for the state, over 11% higher than the previous year. And the teachers were dutifully rewarded, to have the test scores rise even 7% more the next year.

3. Assertion: Merit pay will help to recruit and retain the nation’s brightest minds

Reasoning: Many bright people in our country would love to be teachers and we would love them to be, but they are discouraged to become a teacher because of the low pay and no benefits for intelligent men and women like them. The low pay and no merit pay of teachers leads to many educated people being deterred from becoming a teacher. Is this the future we want for our children? No. Merit pay helps to attract the brightest minds for our educational system and discourage those who wouldn’t make good teachers, for they wouldn’t be protected by tenure anymore and would instead be facing pay cuts for their ineptness at teaching.

Evidence: The only requirements for a public school teacher are that he or she has a Bachelor’s degree. And the average elementary school teacher in California makes $58,850, which is nothing compared to other job opportunities that intelligent people may have in life such as banking or entrepreneurship, which pay much higher that teaching. Because of this, many people are discouraged from teaching because their knowledge and education wouldn’t be reaping all the possible benefits it could have. If we have merit pay, though, these intelligent people would be paid much more, and therefore, have a bigger incentive to become teachers.

Also, on the fact that merit pay would discourage those who wouldn’t make good teachers from teaching; 43 states have tenure policies that kick in after a teacher has been teaching for only 3 years! (National Council on Teacher Quality) This attracts inept teachers, while the low salary distracts good teachers. Clearly, we need reform, and merit pay would fix all of this.

4. Assertion: Merit pay has worked much better than tenure pay

Reasoning: Cincinnati’s public school system, which experimented with performance incentives, persuaded its teachers’ union in 1997 to do a test run of merit pay. Two years later, a ten-school pilot program, designed by administrators and teachers, got under way. Essential to union support was the pilot’s proposed use of peers to evaluate teachers. 'The peer evaluators, who have no stake in how teachers are judged, are important to the perception of the fairness of the system,' observes Kathleen Ware, associate superintendent of Cincinnati schools. Using the value-added analysis, the principals and peer evaluators devoted 20 to 30 hours to assessing every teacher in the ten chosen schools. Based on how they scored, teachers then wound up in one of five salary categories, with poor teachers making the least money and accomplished teachers the most. The pilot proved successful. A majority of teachers involved found it fair and judged the standards used as appropriate for the whole school district. The city’s board of education adopted it in the spring of 2000, and, in a subsequent election, union members signed on.

Evidence: “Why Merit Pay Will Improve Teaching” Steven Malanga, SFGate Summer 2001

Assertions #5, 6, 7, 8

CON (10 assertions)

Rebuttal To: Our education system is failing us.

Assertion: People are too critical of education- it is actually doing fine.

Reasoning: I would like to ask our opponents why they call this “a failure”

1) Why does the USA churn out more Nobel Prize winners than any other country in the world?

2) Why is the U.S. standard of living the envy of the world?

3) Why does our country continually show the world what entrepreneurship is all about?

Changing how teachers are paid is not going to be reflected by dramatic change in the educational system.



This is a question I will impose on the other team that is essential to proving their case. If they cannot answer this question, then they cannot obviously answer the question of whether teachers should be paid on merit and not on tenure, for this question is an essential component of proving their main points.

1. Provide an alternative pay scale for merit pay that will determine how much money we give a teacher deemed “good” or “bad” and what the pay difference would be.

2. Prove how we could successfully, 100% decide whether a teacher is good or bad that couldn’t possibly be inaccurate and cheat a teacher out of honestly earned money.

If they cannot prove this, then we should clearly win this debate.


1. Assertion: It is too difficult to evaluate teacher performance

Reasoning: There are hundreds of tests out there that the government hands out to our schools and tells the students to complete the tests. But we cannot use these tests as a salary-base, because they are all inconclusive, for these tests measure the basic knowledge of a student but not the teacher’s performance. Teaching is not a science. A teacher may be pushing extremely hard and working overtime to try to get their class to perform better, but as is the case in many schools, you just can’t force a child to learn. That’s the flaw in merit pay, that it is impossible to decide who deserves what.

2. Assertion: Teacher unions don’t like merit pay, making it logistically impossible to implement

Reasoning: Merit pay is a tough sell to unions because it is inequitable by definition. For over 50 years, these unions have fought long and hard in order to keep merit pay out. These unions claim that teachers, especially the bad ones, will get kicked out and become unemployed, prompting these unions to block almost every single educational act that has to do with merit pay. Thinking about merit pay is one thing, but implementing it is another.

Evidence: A documentary entitled “Waiting for Superman” about the educational crisis in America

3. Assertion: When you begin to reward teachers on student achievement, nobody wants to teach certain kids in certain communities

Reasoning: Some teachers will have very difficult classes to teach where even the smallest advances are monumental, whereas others have self-motivated, bright students. If student achievement is measured in a value-added sense, teachers may prefer to work where scores are initially lower because they have a lot more room for improvement. It may be easier to move from the 20th percentile to the 40th rather than the 95th to the 90th. Also, teachers have no control over what happens to students outside the classroom. Teachers do not want to be financially punished for having students who don’t succeed.

Evidence: According to The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a study showing that the home environment is responsible for 49% of the factors influencing student achievement. It is not a teacher’s fault if a child lacks the will to succeed or is barred from succeeding by factors the teacher cannot influence or change.

4. Assertion: Teacher’s will be forced to cheat in order to raise their students grades to have job security with merit pay, and thus, problems will result because of a salary based on merit

Reasoning: Teachers will have much more pressure put on them with merit pay, as they will understand that it doesn’t matter how they perform, but how their students do on a few select tests. This will lead to the exploitation of the flaws in our educational system, and these teachers will essentially be “cheating” in order to maintain their jobs.

Evidence: In 1969, the idea of merit pay emerged in the U.S. due to the Nixon administration and their belief that school accountability should be made a top priority. So, an experiment was initiated which tied school funding and teacher pay to students’ tests scores in Arkansas. At first, the scores of the students went up dramatically. However, after an investigation occurred at the school to find out why, officials discovered that more than half of the teachers at the school had been teaching to the test and cheating. The initiative then was expanded into 18 cities and encountered problems with disorganization, scandal, and lack of results.

Assertions #5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10