Merit Pay Plans & Career Ladders

A merit pay play is any one of a number of plans that pays teachers according to their teaching efficiency instead of years of teaching experience and amount of training. Pay-for-performance plans usually give teachers higher salaries or bonuses if theyíre judged to be good at what they do, accept extra or difficult assignments, mentor others on how to become more effective, or more controversially, have students who score higher on tests.

Those who favor merit pay plans advance the following arguments:

  1. Public funds should be used to secure and retain the most efficient teachers.

  2. Salary should be dependent upon service rendered.

  3. Teachers receive little recognition for the work they do. Merit pay justly rewards truly superior teachers and encourages individual improvement.

  4. Average teachers are motivated to excel. Competition works for students, why not for teachers?

  5. It stimulate teachers to be critical of their own work.

  6. Rewarding good teachers will bring the profession respect, top-notch candidates and higher salaries for all.

Merit pay plans opponents give the following arguments against them:

  1. There is no agreement as to just what constitutes merit, or efficient teaching.

  2. No reliable, scientific instrument has been developed to measure the various degrees of teaching efficiency. It is not possible to measure the outcome of education.

  3. Merit rating does not fit the norm of cooperation among teachers.

  4. It hinders the proper relationship between supervisor and teacher.

  5. Merit rating tends to unionize the teachers, antagonize the administration, and ostracize teachers who meet the promotional standards.

  6. Merit rating is arbitrary and unfair to teachers who have unusually difficult students. The home and the church and all the rest of society play their parts in developing the pupils who are in school.

Career Ladders
A career ladder is a plan which provides a variety of stages in a teaching career with different duties and different pay at each stage. It distinguishes between beginning and experienced teachers and experienced and master teachers. A career ladder is a hierarchical ordering of levels within a single position, where promotion from level to level represents acknowledgment of increasing competence in classroom teaching. It provides avenues for improving the professionís image and gaining prestige.
Career ladder plans offer advantages to individual teachers and the school district.

Advantages of Career Ladder Plans for Individual Teachers

  1. a. Career options within teaching and control over these options

  2. It allows teachers to make their own career decisions.

  3. Recognition and status for excellent teachers

  4. Options for diverse work responsibilities without leaving the classroom

  5. Opportunities for career advancement

  6. Opportunities for professional growth


  1. Higher pay as teachers advance into new levels on the career ladder

  2. Other improved aspects of the work environment such as working conditions, effects on personal and professional life, interpersonal relationships, training assistance, and others.


Advantages for School Districts

  1. Enables the district to use the full potential of teachers.

  2. Encourages teachers to meet higher levels of performance at each step of the ladder as they receive more pay.

  3. Provides exemplary models for beginning teachers in a systematic way.

  4. Provides a method to reward outstanding teachers.

  5. Results in more resource people to deal with staff development, curriculum development, and a variety of other professional responsibilities.

  6. Provides a framework to assist individual teachers in goal-setting for professional growth.

  7. Provides a framework to aid in organizational decisions dealing with facilitating continued development (concerning issues such as supervision, travel money, and released time.)


Concerns associated with career ladder plans include but are not limited to:

  1. Contract negotiations become more complicated as teachers perform additional duties.

  2. Possible role confusion as teachers have the option of assuming some supervisory and administrative duties.

  3. Requires a revision of school management and decision making to allow teacherís input.

  4. Lack of funding.

  5. Requires the training of all evaluators to promote fair evaluation.

  6. Requires continued training for teachers to promote professional development.

  7. Possible conflicts with existing state laws or school districts, especially in the case of teacher evaluation.

  8. Possible incongruence between stages in a career ladder and the requirements for tenure and certification.

  9. Requires release time for teachers to complete other professional duties such as curriculum development work.

  10. Requires greater performance accountability.


Results of Implementation of Career Ladders

Richard M. Brandt, who was actively involved in the planning and implementation of career ladder plans reports the following results in his book, "Incentive Pay and Career Ladders for Teacherís"

  1. Improved teacher evaluation procedures.

  2. Increased classroom visitations by principals, assistant principals, and peers to perform careful observations resulting in significant classroom instruction improvement and increased rating in teacher performance.

  3. Decrease in teacher absenteeism in many districts after including attendance criteria in the evaluation system.

  4. Improved student achievement on standardized tests in pilot studies.

  5. Average student achievement on career ladder district was higher during each of the later years when the career ladder was in effect.

Change in school culture was superficial as demonstrated by the continued rejection of excellence as a standard.