Teacher's Pay: Merit versus Market

September 4, 2008 by  

The National Post published an editorial today reporting that:

[Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) president David Clegg] and his negotiators are refusing to sit down with Ontario Education officials — despite the generous salary offer made to ETFO members — until Ontario taxpayers cough up another $900-million per year so elementary schools can put more educators on the payroll (who, not coincidentally, would be additional members of the ETFO).

It concludes:

Pay teachers $90,000 a year. Pay them more if that’s what it takes to recruit good candidates. But pay these top salaries only to the top teachers. The abilities of educators vary. So should their paycheques.

Yes, the employer of a teacher should consider the quality of the teaching services it is buying when deciding how much to pay for said services. However, merit per se gives one no objective means of determining the correct salary for a teacher. It does not flow, from that fact that one is the best toilet scrubber or brain surgeon in Ontario, that ones correct salary is $90,000. Nor does it follow that the correct salary for Ontario’s best teachers is $90,000.

Any person’s services are worth exactly what a consumer is willing to pay for them: not a penny less or more. The teacher salaries problem is rooted in the fact that neither the providers of government-funded education (teachers) nor its consumers (most parents) are involved in determining what services will be provided in government-funded schools, how good those services will be, or what price will be paid for them. If we want all teachers to be paid what they are worth, we must eliminate education taxes and government-funded education; make dealing with unions optional for all buyers and sellers of educational services; and give parents the power to decide which teachers and schools get some of their hard-earned money.


6 Responses to “Teacher's Pay: Merit versus Market”

  1. Dolphino on September 6th, 2008 8:59 am

    The services of a teacher may only be worth what parents can pay for them.

    Your article also implies that every child deserves only a quality of education
    which the parents can afford. Because the parents are only able to pay so
    much for the services of the teachers. This amount of money does not only
    reflects the opinion of the parents towards a good education of their child.
    It also depends on their income which depends on the parents education.
    This sounds like a vicious circle for the children of poor parents.

    The teachers of these (poor) children look incompetent or incapable
    when judged by their salary. So they would try to work only for richer parents
    in private schools or they choose a totaly different area of work, which is
    leaving the poor uneducated or with the least compentent teachers of all.
    Then the services of a teacher are only worth what parents can pay for them!

    I think the payment of the teachers should be a combination of basic salary
    (insuring the survival of the teacher) and an bonus from the parents depending on the satisfaction with the delivered service which increases the standard of
    living for the teacher and motivates for a continued effort for best quality services.

    I think that all children should have the same chance to get a good basic
    education. I’m not saying that everyone should get the same education per se,
    but the own education is an important foundation for the pursuit of happines in life.
    Which should only be limited by the motivation of the child. A perfect system
    would give every child the opportunity to learn as much as it wants
    (on top of the basic skills…).

    For the higher education a grand system should be in place to enable
    them to finish their education as fast as possible and thereby lets
    them realise their dreams independent from their families financial situation.
    I think one achives the highest productivity by working in the area one
    likes most so paying back the grand afterwards shouldn’t be a big issue.

    PS: I’m sorry for any mistakes I made using English. It is not my native language.

  2. Michael on March 5th, 2009 11:10 am

    You can’t actually dictate whether or not you deal with union officials when you buy any labour. Why? Because by their very definition, unionised labour sticks with each other – hence the word union.

    It is a pool of labour to which you will not have access unless you agree to sit down at the negotiating table with their representatives, and negotiate a wage which they believe is commensurate with the skills, ability, and productivity of their union members. So really the only way you can decide not to deal with unions, is by choosing not to access that pool of labour.

    Unionisation is compatible with your own system of ethics. I’m sure that it is within your beliefs, that people may choose to associate with whomever they want in lawful ways that do not infringe open the rights of others.

    You might not believe so, but unions have played an important role in the 20th century, raising living standards of workers who individually do not have the bargaining power to negotiate fair and equitable wages for themselves. I’m not saying that unions never act selfishly or demand pay higher than their workers deserve, or that unions deliver pay consistent with the skills of each individual, but that union members recognise that collectively they stand a much better chance of being paid at least a fair wage.

    Some may be paid more than they deserve, others paid less, but sacrificing higher wages in return for a guaranteed wage is just

  3. Michael on March 5th, 2009 11:19 am

    Some may be paid more than they deserve, others paid less, but sacrificing higher wages in return for a guaranteed wage is that just and not subject to the whims of an opportunitistic individual is, in their mind, a rational choice which arises from a lack of trust between owners of capital and suppliers of labour that will probably continue for the next 500 years.

    (Sorry, I accidently bumped the tab key and hit space, hence my incomplete message).

  4. Michael on March 5th, 2009 11:43 am

    In relation to the first comment, I agree with the premise of their argument.

    It goes simply that “Those who do not choose to be born should not have their opportunities dictated entirely by the actions, choices or abilities of their parents.”

    This is a moral argument based on two premises, firstly, that none of us are born by choice, nor do we choose the circumstances we are born into, and the second, that life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness are not rights which are unevenly distributed.

    It’s not uncommon for people from wealthier backgrounds to assume that their outcome in life is purely due to their own hard labour and naturally endowed skills, when in fact the social networks which they are born into and the opportunities afforded to them by being born, by chance, into a wealthy, productive family, have contributed as much to their success as any effort they have put in.

    But they internalise their successes, and ignore these external factors, because an admission that the support they received, purely by chance, played a large role in their success, is an implicit admission that they might not actually be as superior to the man with the lower outcome as they first thought. Secondly, it forces them to reconsider the role of redistributive taxes which they first thought so unnecessary and immoral, and challenges their entire system of beliefs.

  5. Teacher on March 24th, 2009 8:48 pm

    This idea is ludacris. You are missing one important component of education; the learner. If teachers are going to be paid according to their abilities then I don’t want to teach any of the ADD and lower level kids. The money I will lose from passing them up will be gained when I can demand more money because I produce students with higher averages. The integrity of the education system would decline and collapse.
    Think about this scenario:
    Jimmy should fail this class, but if I give him a 90% his parents will pay up, and I can increase my worth and demand. I can even market it….For only $95,000 per year I will get your kids into university…….I GUARANTEE IT!
    Who wouldn’t pay up to guarantee the success of their child.

  6. Paul McKeever on March 25th, 2009 7:41 am

    Teacher: any person who claims to be able to “GUARANTEE” a parent that their child will get accepted by a university had better be able to spell “ludicrous”.

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