House panel passes merit pay bill that ignores teacher experience

Despite objections from numerous education experts who testified in opposition, the state House Education Committee passed legislation Wednesday that would make performance the “primary” factor in determining pay for teachers, rather than its current status as a “significant” factor.

House Bill 4625, which now goes to the full House, would also prohibit school officials from considering experience or advanced degrees as factors in setting pay for teachers, except for a few limited exceptions.

As originally introduced, the bill would have applied only to future teachers. However, the committee passed an amendment offered by Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, that would also apply merit pay to current teachers who opt in.

The committee also passed an amendment from Rep. Tom Hooker, R-Byron Center, that would delay implementation of the bill until the completion of a new educator evaluation system being developed by the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness. For more on the MCEE’s evaluation system, see the April edition of the MEA Voice.

Several people who testified said it’s a mistake to cast aside experience as a factor in determining teachers’ pay.

Donald Heller, dean of the Michigan State University College of Education, said, “Research shows that teachers improve in skill level as they gain in experience.”

“This bill does little to ensure we have the best people teaching our students in the state of Michigan,” Heller said. 

Randy Schaffer, who teaches manufacturing, engineering, construction and computer-assisted design in Howell Public Schools, pointed to his 38 years of teaching experience, which include summers spent strengthening his knowledge.

“According to this proposal, things like that have no merit,” said Schaffer, who also serves as a Republican Ingham County commissioner.

Christine Beardsley, superintendent of the Eaton Intermediate School District, told legislators that they themselves benefit from experience, and so too do educators.

“Can anyone of you say in Year One you were better than in Year Two as a legislator?” Beardsley asked.

Those testifying also expressed concern over the bill’s devaluation of advanced degrees. As it stands under the bill, districts would be barred from considering teachers’ educational attainment when determining their pay. The only exceptions would be for teachers who hold secondary certificates with a subject area endorsement and who are teaching in that subject area, as well as for elementary school teachers who have an advanced degree in elementary education.

“You can know everything about algebra,” said Brad Biladeau of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, but without the skills developed through a master’s degree in teaching, “it won’t do you much good.”

Finally, opponents of the legislation condemned the Legislature’s one-size-fits-all approach to education reform, which imposes the will of the state onto local communities.

Gary Murrell, human resources director for Garden City Public Schools, said state-directed merit pay unnecessarily interferes in local affairs without any actual benefit to students.

“Merit pay for teachers is not the answer to improving student achievement,” Murrell said. “Just because the Legislature has the power to impose such a law doesn’t make it right or wise.”

Beardsley said local communities should be allowed to innovate and find solutions that work for their own unique circumstances. 

“There are so many courageous leaders and courageous educators out there,” she said. “We are pioneering. We are working hard. Give us a chance.”