Team Merit Pay

Back on March 31, I blogged about Jaime Escalante.

We love the individual success story. Not so much the more complex story of an excellent department. For example, I haven’t heard anyone trumpeting merit pay for excellent teacher departments.

Yet part of the Escalante legacy was his building a math department (and ultimately having it, to his great dismay, unwound into the usual crappy morass).

Boom. Here is someone trumpeting merit pay for excellent teacher departments. Kim Marshall is a very thoughtful retired Boston principal. And the publisher of a little gem called The Marshall Memo. And a gentleman.

In 2009, he wrote an essay arguing that merit pay was a bad idea.

More recently, seeing that merit pay is not a matter of if, but simply how it will work -- he wrote a new essay, arguing for small teacher team merit pay.

Who gets rewarded. Should it be individual teachers? Teacher teams? Or the entire school staff? I believe the most productive choice is teacher teams. Rewarding teams promotes collaboration where it counts—among the three or four kindergarten or Algebra 1 teachers who teach the same content to different students. Rewarding teams avoids the problems of individual rewards (idea-hoarding and silo-dwelling) and large-group rewards (freeloading by lazy and ineffective colleagues).

Team rewards encourage colleagues to push all students to high achievement—and create a dynamic in which peers hold each other accountable. As University of California, Los Angeles, professor James W. Stigler has written, team accountability in Japanese schools was a key factor in the steady improvement of teaching and learning there in recent decades.

I wonder if Marshall's idea could create more of the Escalante-like math departments (and history, science, and English departments).