Merit Pay and Special Education Teachers

As I was reading another blogger’s blog yesterday, I became all fired up about a topic that was just starting to be discussed towards the end of my teaching career. If you read Valerie’s blog from yesterday about merit pay for teachers, you can see what got me all riled up.

You see, I am an ex special-education teacher. I taught kids my entire ten-year career that didn’t learn as fast, or had behavior problems that interfered with their learning. When our school administrator let the staff know eventually the state of Iowa was planning on implementing some form of merit pay for teachers whose classrooms show a certain amount of growth each year, I became quite upset. Not because I didn’t think the children I taught couldn’t show growth, because they most certainly could eventually, but because it didn’t seem fair to group special education in with this idea when so many don’t see growth anywhere comparable to that of general education.

It seems the state was talking about paying teachers according to how much growth was seen on a year-to-year basis. Therefore, teachers who have a classroom full of learning disabled students would obviously not show as much growth as those teachers who have no special-education students in his or her class. What about the special-education teachers in general? What would their merit pay be based on?

It certainly couldn’t and shouldn’t be based on the growth of the class as whole, because there will be several children who will not improve academically for quite some time. Then there are the teachers who teach children with severe behavior problems (like I did), these children often had behaviors that interfered with their education. Often times a behavior one child is exhibiting could interfere with the entire class learning or not learning something. These children often don’t show growth in academics until they start growing behaviorally.

So, what is to be done with special-education teachers and merit pay? How should the state determine what they deserve? Should behavior disordered teachers receive merit based on growth for student’s behaviors? Should learning disabled teachers receive merit for growth on IEP’s each year? I am not sure how the merit system should be based for special education teachers.

All I know is that it shouldn’t be the same criteria that general education teachers, who have no special-education students in their classroom, have. If the states that are implementing this merit system decide to base every teacher the same, I am worried for special education. Those states may lose some excellent special education teachers because merit pay for them just won’t work if held to the same standards as those who do not teach any special education students at all.