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Posted at 9:09 PM ET, 03/30/2010

How about merit pay for parents?

By Valerie Strauss

Here is an e-mail I received from a teacher, Patricia M. Duffey, an eighth grade English/Language Arts teacher in Hickory, N.C., with one idea for school reform. It explains why linking teacher merit pay to student test scores is a bad idea, and offers an alternative.

From Patricia M. Duffey:
I am a middle school teacher of many years’ experience who remains excited about my profession, despite the abysmal state in which it now seems to languish. I ask that you stay with me as I posit a simple idea that I believe should be considered as a means of transforming the landscape of education reform.

As a reading and language teacher, I have labored over the years to creatively and energetically implement new programs brought in to help low-performing students in every school, district, and state in which I have taught over two decades.

My results, like most other good teachers with whom I have worked, remain spotty -- some years very good, some years flat, largely dependent upon the personality, drive, and willingness of the given student population of that year.

Today, though we have a new presidential administration and new education secretary, we are actually continuing in the same direction, which has not necessarily proven to be effective in the past, i.e., rewarding teachers for improved test scores.

Trust me, I have never worked harder, or with more conviction toward success than I do now, but I still cannot be certain my student gains will be enough for the year to make a significant difference. Why? Because there is no silver bullet, no secret formula for defining success within each year’s class of students. And as long as teachers are held solely responsible for the outcome, we will not have the success for which we strive, and are thereby stifling the boldest positive outcomes.

To that end, I believe that a different solution, along with high teacher accountability, may bring about change. That is, tying parents to an equally high level of accountability will help make up that difference, and we can do so quite easily.

My idea is to take funding for merit pay and move it from the teacher column into the parent column. I truly believe that we need to provide more incentive for parents of low-performing students to follow-through in helping their child succeed.

Teachers are giving, in many cases, more than 100 percent in the classroom, but there truly is no replacement for hard work on the part of all who are invested in education: student-parent-teacher-school administration. I cannot over-emphasize the effect that parental involvement has in student success, and how difficult it is for teachers to bridge that gap when it is missing.

I took this concept to Dr. Bonnie Cramond, education professor at the University of Georgia, Athens, who then spoke about it in a public lecture last month. She believes it to be a viable solution worth considering...I have no personal agenda, except somehow to help change the public’s perception of what teachers are doing that is ’right’ in education, and thereby changing our legacy to America.

It has been extraordinarily difficult over a number of years to hear a constant drumbeat of how educators are failing our students. If a simple solution to improving scores were truly within the purview of every teacher, without the help of student and parent, we would have done so long ago, and without extra pay. Believe it!

Teachers are already paid professionals, and the variables too many for merit pay to substantially change outcomes.

Merit pay should be used as incentive for the parents who do not fully understand the critical part they play in their child’s success. Without their dedication in developing intrinsic motivation in their child, ensuring success and real change in education, and I believe that parent merit pay will go a long way in helping reach that end.


What do you think of this idea?


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By Valerie Strauss  | March 30, 2010; 9:09 PM ET
Categories:  Parents, Teachers  | Tags:  parents, teachers, teachers unions  
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Honestly, I love the idea.

However, I may prefer giving each teacher a (large) budget for their class that they can use however they like, including merit pay for parents.

This is because I like trying many solutions rather than dictating specific ones to everyone.

Posted by: db1618 | March 31, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm a teacher in an inner-city school who is against both merit pay for teachers and for parents.

The timing of your post is ironic because just today New City announced the evaluation results on their huge ($40 million) parent incentive effort to do just what your post proposes.

It's failed, and they're shutting it down.

You can read more about it here:

There are many more effective ways to increase family engagement, including teacher-home visits; community organizing around neighborhood problems; school community gardens; and family literacy efforts.

Larry Ferlazzo

Posted by: larryferlazzo | March 31, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

The unfortunate thing is that there really is no good way to gauge the various individual impacts on a student's learning. It isn't a science experiment where you can keep all things constant except one independent variable. Everything has to work together. No one in our country seems to want to accept that, as everyone has to put their two cents in and speculate as to why kids aren't achieving in school. The teacher in this article has it right that it takes a concerted effort by everyone involved to inspire learning. Anything short of that and we will always see children "left behind."

Posted by: smm4c2000 | March 31, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

"Merit pay should be used as incentive for the parents who do not fully understand the critical part they play in their child’s success."

So, once again, those who start out irresponsible will get rewarded into doing better, while those who were responsible all along get nothing, except to pay for the irresponsible ones? No, thanks.

Posted by: LadybugLa | March 31, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Ladybugla...parents shouldn't have to be paid to parent. Will bribing them really work? It's a novel idea, and it would take the focus off beleaguered teachers, who cannot be expected to take full responsibility for students' failing to learn. If parents won't participate, will money make them do it? I doubt it. I frankly stopped paying close attention when my own child graduated from high school in 1987, but somewhere, some time between then and 1996, when my grandson started school, the wheels fell off the wagon. What's the solution, if not incentive pay for parents? Stop looking at the forest as though all the trees in it are identical. They aren't.

Posted by: expat39520 | March 31, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

I teach as well and I believe money is not the answer to the issue. Teachers do not get into the field of education to become wealthy. It is/was a calling for most individuals. What I have seen schools become is a societial 'dumping' ground, if you will, for fixing all that ails society and our economy. Students are expected to come out of school ready to increase our GDP. That would be wonderful if all students were created the same, had parents who supported and appreciated education as a vehicle for advancement in society, etc.

Over the last few years, I have ran into parents who do not respond to any requests from me, nor provide a working phone number to reach them. These are the students I am concerned about and know will not pass 'the test.' Should my pay be determine by a neglectful parent(s)?

I have also seen programs where parents were paid to attend meetings on behalf of their children and you could still see that they did not want to be there. When does high expectations involve or begin with parents for their own children?

What I would like to see is these funds shifted to social service agencies to deal with child neglect. When I have no valid number to reach a parent, whether it is an emergency or not, in my opinion, constitutes neglect. If valid information is not provided to schools, parents should be held responsible. If parents do not attend meetings, conferences, or help support the education of their children, I should not have it effect my pay. If a patient does not follow doctors orders, is the doctor blamed for the patient's m poor health or premature death?

Food for thought.

Posted by: winnie730 | April 1, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

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