I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Merit Pay: Thoroughly Tested, Thoroughly Failed

To some people, like the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran, facts are stupid things:
A few thoughts on the comments: No one can be sure that this will work, because merit pay has only been tried in a few places, and in different ways. It is pioneering stuff, so by its nature, there is not a long track record. But it sure makes intuitive sense, and is in place in almost every other profession, including journalism. So why not try it with teaching? [emphasis mine]
In fact, merit pay has a very long track record, dating back to 1862:
So try this. The drive to link teacher pay to high stakes tests as advocated by Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush and their ilk and castigated in so many of Diane’s blogs resembles nothing so closely as the system introduced in England in 1862 – yes, 1862 – for making the level of grants to elementary schools conditional on children’s performance in literacy and numeracy tests. 
What was this eerily familiar system called? Payment by Results, or ‘prizes for success in teaching the rudiments’. What were its consequences? The great Matthew Arnold – poet, essayist, defender of culture against the philistine hordes, and as it happens also a school inspector – showed how Payment by Results narrowed the curriculum, forced teachers to teach to the test, bored children, intimidated teachers and in many other respects did exactly what high stakes tests always do. He warned, and he was proved correct for a few years later the scheme was abandoned, that Payment by Results ‘will not do what it proposes to do, and even if it were to do what it proposes, the means by which it proposes to do this would still be objectionable.’
As I posted in Ed Reform 101:
Myth: Paying teachers on merit will work because it's so logical.
The Truth: Every time merit pay for teachers has been tried in a controlled study, it has failed.
- Merit pay has been tried and failed in New York City, Tennessee, Texas, Chicago, Michigan,and even 18h century England. (These are "controlled" studies where merit pay is the only variable.)
 
Myth: Earning more money will be a great motivator for teachers.
The Truth: Merit pay has never been shown to be particularly effective, and teachers don't want it.
- Decades of research shows that pay for performance is a weak motivator.
- Teachers overwhelmingly agree that tying their pay to performances on state tests is a bad idea.
 
Myth: Teaching is the only profession where people aren't paid on merit.
The Truth: Merit pay as conceived by "reformers" is rare in the private sector.
- Only six percent of workers are awarded regular output-based payments (p.6)
- Most of those are concentrated in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries.
Not good enough? Try a video:


More?
Education performance pay stretches back hundreds of years. In the mid-1800s, British schools and teachers were paid on the basis of the results of student examinations, for reasons much like today's. After more than 30 years, however, the testing bureaucracy had burgeoned, cheating and cramming flourished, and public opposition had grown dramatically. The practice was abandoned as a failure.
In 1907, Edmond Holmes, Great Britain's chief education inspector, described schooling in the era of test-based performance pay as the teacher engaged "in laying thin films of information on the surface of the child's mind, and then, after a brief interval, in skimming these off in order to satisfy himself that they have been duly laid" (Nelson, 2001, p. 386). Holmes referred to this kind of recall as being "the equivalent of food which its recipient has not been allowed to digest" (p. 386).
In 1918, 48 percent of U.S. public school districts described their payment systems as "merit based." But "merit" was subjective: White men were paid more than minorities and women, a disparity that eventually fueled a movement toward a uniform pay scale. Two years after women won the vote, the first uniform pay plans appeared in Denver, Colorado, and Des Moines, Iowa. By the 1950s, only 4 percent of U.S. school districts described themselves as merit based (Murnane & Cohen, 1986; Protsik, 1996).
There were brief attempts to implement performance-based pay in the early 1960s after Sputnik, and again when President Nixon launched an experiment with "performance contracting," which ended in cheating scandals and failure. In the early 1980s, when A Nation at Risk alarmed citizens with the prospect of "a rising tide of mediocrity" threatening to engulf U.S. schools, President Reagan reintroduced experiments with merit pay, with similarly negative results. Some school districts experimented through the 1980s with incentive programs based on merit, management by objectives, and career-ladder or differentiated staffing approaches. Few such experiments had any staying power. A new wave of experiments developed in the 1990s, most of which were also based on career ladders, teacher skills and knowledge, or differentiated staffing.
Let's recap all the ways that Tom Moran is wrong about merit pay:

- It is not "pioneering stuff."
- It has a long track record.
- It never raises student achievement.
- It is not in place, as conceived in the Newark contract, in "almost every other profession."

But hey, let's try it again. Maybe this time the Merit Pay Fairy will show up in Newark and magically wipe away the effects of poverty and language barriers and racism and inequality. And we can all tell ourselves that we are doing something for the deserving children of Newark without having to confront the very real and serious challenges they face. We can all say we care about kids because we're implementing a scheme once again that has always failed in the past.

And aren't our feelings what's really important here?

The Merit Pay Fairy says: "I waves my wand, and PRESTO! Your guilt magically goes away!"

In 1918, 48 percent of U.S. public school districts described their payment systems as "merit based." But "merit" was subjective: White men were paid more than minorities and women, a disparity that eventually fueled a movement toward a uniform pay scale. Two years after women won the vote, the first uniform pay plans appeared in Denver, Colorado, and Des Moines, Iowa. By the 1950s, only 4 percent of U.S. school districts described themselves as merit based (Murnane & Cohen, 1986; Protsik, 1996).
I find that very interesting, don't you? Of course, sexism has been completely eliminated from our culture, so no need to worry your pretty little heads about this any more, ladies...


2 comments:

jcg said...

Face it. Tom Moran has a deep contempt for teachers and the truth.

Duke said...

Would you please take Tom, jcg? I'm sure he'd love writing for a paper in TN somewhere!

Say hi to Mr. jcg, and Happy Thanksgiving! Y'all must barbecue the turkeys in your neck of the woods, right?

;-)