Merit pay has no effect on teacher quality


It’s gratifying when other research backs up what we have been saying all along: Merit pay has no effect on teacher quality.

Education Week published a story Tuesday headlined “Merit Pay Found to Have Little Effect on Achievement.” Here’s the first paragraph: “The most rigorous study of performance-based teacher compensation ever conducted in the United States shows that a nationally watched bonus-pay system had no overall impact on student achievement – results released today that are certain to set off a firestorm of debate.”

While I don’t know about the “firestorm of debate,” it seems clear that what we have always said is true: Teaching is a profession, not a trade or a clock-punching job. Teachers get into the profession because they love to teach. They have bills just like the rest of us and they want a sound retirement like the rest of us, therefore they worry about money just like the rest of us.

But teachers are offended by the idea that if the state were to waive a little money in front of them, they’d somehow do a superior job. Politicians couch this plan by saying teachers need to be “financially rewarded for superior performance” without saying that performance is difficult to measure and no one has come up with a way to accurately measure it.

Even if performance could be measured, would a financial prod egg teachers on to do anything different? No. It has been shown that money is better spent giving teachers financial help with mentoring, collaboration and curriculum development.

Which brings us to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s flawed Quality Compensation initiative. While it includes mentoring, collaboration and curriculum development, it mostly favors merit pay and salary structure revision.

Let’s put Q Comp out of its misery once and for all. Let’s keep its mentoring, collaboration and curriculum development aspects and dump the merit pay and salary revisions. Then it might become a viable program.

Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Issues conducted the teacher compensation study.  Researchers followed nearly 300 middle school mathematics teachers in Nashville, Tenn. to evaluate the hypothesis that a large monetary incentive would cause teachers to seek ways to be more effective and boost student scores as a result. On average, students taught by teachers taking part in the program did not make larger academic gains than those taught by teachers in the normal wage group.