Random thoughts. Merit pay? “I don’t know any business that operates that way.”


Every now and then I get bombarded by the free-market crowd who want schools to be run more like business.

I received one the other day that yelled (Trust me. Comments can yell.), “Choice, choice, choice!”

No matter that real choices are offered  mostly to the rich.

As for the rest of us? McDonald’s or Burger King for eating out tonight?

This is all apart from the fact that schools are not businesses and children are not widgets.

My free-market correspondents love the idea of merit pay. Put those union and board bargained salary schedules through the shredding machine! If a teacher has kids that don’t perform well on a test, fire their ass!

They call it the real world. That’s the way it is done in business.

So, I was drawn to a story the came out today about McDonald’s.

No. Not about getting the world’s largest fast food company to pay a living wage.

About merit pay and the real world.

McDonald’s is in the early stages of their economic recovery. Their offer of breakfast all day has been a big hit. Apparently people love those delicious hash browns in the late afternoon. Profits are up. Their stock price is up.

McDonald’s has decided to have a what is called a creative review.

That means that the advertising agencies who want their business have to make a new pitch.

The deal Micky is offering is that the ad agencies don’t get to make a profit off of hawking burgers and fries until they can prove that the marketing campaign has improved the bottom line.

Merit pay!

The agencies competing for the contract are screaming bloody murder about the deal.

One source who requested anonymity described the terms as “unheard of” and noted, “I don’t know of any business that operates that way.”

Nobody in business operates that way.

7 Replies to “Random thoughts. Merit pay? “I don’t know any business that operates that way.””

  1. Merit pay is nothing more than a code phrase for paying someone less. No one ever advocates it for themselves, only for others. Although merit pay is promoted as a way to improve schools through the so called “competition of the marketplace”, it has little to do with “merit”. The point is to pay less, control others, and keep costs low. All wrapped up in a so called “competitive free market” ideology.

    Advocates promote “merit pay” as making schools more like a business. Interesting enough, in reality most well run companies bear little resemblance to the “merit pay” ideology of these “free market” mavens.

    The idea that schools would work better if they were run as a competition just doesn’t hold up. The amoral, mindless pursuit of profit in the marketplace at the expense of everything else (ex. ethics, morals, decency) seems foolish at best. It doesn’t fit at all for schools. When implemented in a school, it is a disaster.

    I have worked under merit pay. l can tell you that it ALWAYS destroys cooperation and collegiality. These are key elements of any good school. The dishonesty inherent in the idea that “merit pay” will improve things is breathtaking.

    If cutthroat competition is what good business is all about, I don’t think being “like a business” is a good idea for schools. Just consider the examples of criminal and amoral behavior of some companies exposed in the media almost daily.

    Public schools exist to help everyone, not just those who are the fastest and most ruthless. Teachers need to work together and help each other if that goal is to be achieved. “Merit pay” won’t get us there.

  2. No matter that real choices are offered mostly to the rich.

    The corollary to the “choice” option is vouchers – a system that worked very well in Milwaukee – and you know it. Come on, Fred, if you’re going to dis “choice”, at least be honest about how it works, and then comment. School choice is not just for the rich; in fact, the poor are the greatest beneficiaries.

    Nobody in business operates that way.

    Apparently, someone does now. Want to bet it sticks, and that others will follow?

    1. Not sure where you get your information from. By any reasonable measure, the voucher program in Milwaukee was/is a disaster. As someone who has studied and actually seen up close the school choice movement in MPS back in the 90’s, anyone can start and anyone can teach at a voucher school. School buildings don’t have to meet code or be suitable for children and staff. Here is a primer for you but I doubt you’ll read it.


    2. Dear Akivida,
      You must be writing either from some kind of alternative universe or from the inside of a padded cell. I can remember the time before Reagan entered the White House when “merit pay” for teachers was a punch line in many of our jokes. It was also a time when our country still had some degree of sanity. The only one who advocated “vouchers” was Milton Friedman, former advertising executive turned economics professor. Then, St. Ronald, in his wisdom such as it was, advocated “merit pay” and vouchers. At the time, we took those as seriously as St. Ronny’s claim that “trees are the biggest contributors to air pollution.” We must not have laughed hard enough. The bitter lesson: Never underestimate a politician’s ability to make a joke into a law.

      (Thank you, Will Rogers!)

  3. How does a “charter” school equal a choice? You don’t get to choose the charter. The charter chooses whether or not they want you. I know people who have children in the Milwaukee Public Schools (both neighborhood and charter). I have never heard a positive comment from them about charters.

    I also know individuals who taught in Milwaukee charters with Teach For America. They left as quickly as possible. Recruiting teachers to work in these charters is not going well due to low pay and poor working conditions.

    The charters are under performing, even by how “market” people measure success. Just like Chicago. Most of the people who use vouchers in Wisconsin wind up going back to the school they left in a semester or two. Not much “improvement” brought about by “market forces” there either.

    These charter schools don’t provide any improvement in quality. Just profits for the operator, removal of some special needs students, removal of students with behavioral issues, and fewer resources devoted to students overall. “Choice” isn’t helping students.

    As far as McDonalds and advertising agencies are concerned, I’d bet on the agencies turning them down. Both sides need the opportunity to make a profit. Ask Walmart how long vendors keep agreeing to unprofitable business arrangements. Some business is just not worth having.

    To Fred:
    Does this guy ever have an original thought? Or does he just parrot the “free market” dogma hoping to provoke you?

    1. He doesn’t have an original thought. But I like an occasional break from those like you who make total sense.

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