There's been little evidence that teachers’ performance bonuses have any meaningful effect on student achievement. But a new study out of Chicago took a brand-new tack, dividing 150 teachers into two groups. The first group received a $4,000 advance, with the understanding that if students didn’t do better than average on standardized tests, they would have to pay it back. If achievement did go up, teachers stood to earn as much as another $4,000. The second group of teachers was told that they could earn up to $8,000 in merit bonuses at the end of the academic year with sliding scale payouts based on student test scores.
Interestingly, the teachers whose students showed the strongest performance gains were those who had the threat of repaying a $4,000 advance looming over them.
In writing about the study for The Atlantic’s online business section, associate editor Jordan Weissmann described this an unkind – but potentially genius – approach to the issue, and I’d call that an astute assessment.Unkind but genius; like the Milgram experiments, and just as ethical. Just because something "works" doesn't mean you should do it. And good luck trying to take the money back without a massive lawsuit on the school district's hands.
Diane Ravitch savages this entire idea, and there's a good discussion from her readers below her post. But Leonie Haimson's comment here really puts it nicely:
Also it would be important to consider the effect on the teaching profession as a whole and its morale if such a sadistic policy were implemented; esp. given analyses by statistical experts that annual variations in student test scores at the classroom level are extremely volatile with as large as an 80% margin of error in many cases. [emphasis mine]One of the characteristics of believers in the Merit Pay Fairy is that they refuse to consider that their nutty schemes may have larger consequences. What sort of person wants a job where you are paid through a loss aversion scheme? Is that the best way to attract the best and the brightest to the profession? If so, why don't we pay education reformers this way? Jonah Edelman should be writing a nice big check back to his funders right about now.
Only in teaching would we ever consider that this was a good idea. Only in teaching would we think of treating professionals with so little respect and think there would be plenty of well-qualified candidates with masochistic tendencies ready to sign up. Only in teaching do we ignore the obvious and wait for fairies to save our children.
Don't youse guys think about takin' back my wand!