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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, and Merit Pay

If we all close our eyes and WISH hard enough, all of our dreams will magically come true...
The results of the NCPI Nashville study(released last year) and of the New York City RAND study (released this week) certainly call into question the motivation theory [these are studies on merit pay that found no improvement in student achievement]. 
More importantly, however, these sobering findings from two short-term programs provide no insight into the potential benefits that the broader adoption of merit pay might foster for the overall composition of the teaching force. In our current non-merit-pay world, newly entering teachers can expect very high levels of job security, but very few rewards for high performance. This recipe may not be appealing to talented young people confident that they would flourish in a more differentiated system. The data agree: unfortunately, our most talented college graduates do not aspire to be teachers (Teach For America is one notable exception). However, if teacher salaries were related to effectiveness, talented and self-assured individuals might be more likely to enter the profession and turn into excellent classroom teachers.
Indeed, the widespread use of merit pay has the potential to enhance the composition of the teaching corps at the front end and beyond. Over time, a well-designed merit pay system would send the right signals and foster a sort of “natural selection” whereby effective teachers, encouraged by annual recognition and rewards, would eagerly return to the classroom each year. At the same time, their less-effective peers would find teaching to be less financially rewarding and would thus work to improve their skills or seek out other career options.
First of all, let me ask my standard question: if every teacher needs to be a great teacher, and you believe more pay will attract better teachers, doesn't that mean that eventually the payroll of the entire teaching corps needs to rise? If so, let's just raise it now - at least for teachers entering the field - and let the market do its work.

Second: where's your proof?!?! You want to implement merit pay because it "might" improve the teaching corps? Don't you think you should have a little more evidence before you make such a radical adjustment?

Third: merit pay only works if teachers perceive it as fair. Teachers know that if you base it on secretive standardized tests, it will be anything but fair.

But, yes, by all means, let's keep believing in the Merit Pay Fairy. She'll wave her magic wand and all of the problems of childhood poverty and racism and language and learning disabilities and income inequity and unequal resources will be magically wiped away...

How's it goin'? I'm the Merit Pay Fairy, here to magically make your school better! Sweet, huh?


Jesse Weinberger said...

I agree with you - but if you look closely - the study you're referring to was designed so poorly, that the findings are useless.

In the study almost 70% of the participating schools gave "merit" raises to ALL the teachers making the entire point moot.

See the data: http://bit.ly/nszBt6

Merit pay based solely on testing is ridiculous - but so is not measuring performance at all.

Duke said...

One of the tenets of the scientific method is that you propose a hypothesis, then test for the predictions that hypothesis makes.

The burden of proof here is not on those, like myself, who don't think merit pay will work. The burden of proof is on those who think it will. Can't prove a negative and all that...

If we're going to radically change how we compensate teachers, we should know if it works. It's not my fault if this study wasn't designed to test whether individual merit pay works (as opposed to school-wide merit pay).

Further, I think there is a good case to be made that instituting an individual merit system without informed consent is a violation of experimental ethics. That naturally taints any sample; who would want to sign on to a system if they knew they probably wouldn't do well in it?

So, the merit pay crowd has a real conundrum here. But it's not my job to make it easier for them.

My larger point is that we have many in the corporate reform movement who believe merit pay will work despite a lack of evidence it will. May as well believe in the Great Pumpkin...

Lisa said...

Incentive pay IS a good idea. Yes, I said it--and I stand by it. However...the "reformers" are paying the wrong party. Studies show significant success when you PAY THE KIDS. Yup. One study even showed improved test scores in reading that equated with about three additional months in the classroom.

[[Kids who got paid all year under a very elegant scheme performed significantly better on their standardized reading tests at the end of the year. Statistically speaking, it was as if those kids had spent three extra months in school, compared with their peers who did not get paid.

"These are substantial effects, as large as many other interventions that people have thought to be successful," says Brian Jacob, a University of Michigan public-policy and economics professor who has studied incentives and who reviewed Fryer's study at TIME's request. If incentives are designed wisely, it appears, payments can indeed boost kids' performance as much as or more than many other reforms you've heard about before — and for a fraction of the cost."]]


Hehe. There are numerous such studies with the same results, which provide strong empirical evidence that the crux of the issue and the problem is NOT with the instruction.

Now, let's get this out there! The truth will out, as the Brits say.

(Now I know how much you like connections, Duke ;-). We aim to please.)

Lisa said...

BTW, it might be interesting to note that the author of the study I cited above is Dr. Roland Fryer Jr., the young Harvard economist and one of Ms. Rhee's golden boys, for whom she wrote his bio for the 2009 Time 100 edition.


Let's see them try to deem HIS work "irrelevant." ;-)

If I may quote one of my favorite geek movies, Independence Day:

"Now we know how to take 'em out, General. Spread the word."

thinker said...

So let me get this straight...the kids are the ones "performing" on the test and the performance tends to improve when we offer monetary performance incentive to the performers, rather than the coaches. Why, why...that doesn't make an sense at all! The teacher is the responsbile one! do i really need to lay out the flaws in this logic or shall I assume we all have the critical thinking skills to figure it out?

So you give child A a test which basically doesn't matter to them at all and when that child just scores average (or worse) you then turn around and blame the teacher. Child B, on the other hand (who just loves taking tests), scores very well so child B's teacher gets a fat bonus. But we are SHOCKED to discover that when you make those tests matter to the kids (with cash prizes), they kick up the performance? I'll say it again, SHOCKING!

After listening to two kids talk about how the SAT test-you know, the one that will affect where those kids go to college-was too long so "I just started filling in anything to just be done with it"...yeah, then I knew that these tests should NEVER be used to decide someone's career.