Merit Pay

Diane Ravitch recently blogged again about an article advocating against merit pay for teachers. While I often find myself not agreeing with Diane on a lot of topics, I do side with her on this one.

There are two ways to attack this issue: from the neutral perspective of data (simply asking if the technique works), and from a theoretical one.

From a data-based perspective, I’ll leave that to other folks who have those data to confirm, but my understanding is that it’s been tried, and hasn’t worked. If that’s the case, sort of end of story on that point.

From a theoretical perspective, my initial response is actually that I do think there is a salary point above which merit pay would work. To use an extreme example to illustrate the concept, let’s say teachers were given a $300,000 bonus if their kids’ test scores were above a certain point. I don’t think all teachers would be able to accomplish this with all kids, but I do think we’d seen an increase in effort and time spent by teachers, and better results. My sense is that you’d see teachers exerting all kinds of crazy effort trying to improve their game and get results.

However, when we’re talking practically and considering what merit pay actually looks like – the actual amounts offered – it just doesn’t make sense. On the contrary, what we see is a reduction of effort because teachers – many of whom are driven by passion for students and learning – are insulted that their worth or results would be reduced to a few hundred extra dollars. They’re insulted that they’re being told through such an incentive program that they aren’t really trying as hard as they can, because if the powers that be did believe they were trying their hardest, they wouldn’t be offering this incentive program.

So, for now, I’ll enjoy this moment of consensus with Diane!


Author: bobbycaples

Bobby Caples was born in Covington, KY just across the river from Cincinnati. At age 5, his family moved across the river to Ohio, where lived until he left for college. Bobby Caples attended Catholic schools from grades 1-12, an experience which was foundational to his later career in the education and nonprofit sectors. His mother was a social worker, and his father - who passed away when he was young - was the operations manager for a local restaurant chain. Mr. Caples attended St. Xavier HS in the 1990s, a school known as much for its academics and college prep focus as its emphasis on social justice. As part of the school’s focus on social justice, Bobby Caples participated in a service trip in between his junior and senior year, which opened up a new world to him. For one of the first times, he had experienced both the beauty and despair of people living in poverty In college at the University of Virginia, Bobby Caples continued his interest in social justice and activism by working and volunteers at various community centers during the year, and working at a summer camp for kids with chronic illness each summer. As his college career progressed, Mr. Caples moved from being interested in social justice as a side topic to becoming focused on it as a career. He became passionate about community-based supports for kids living in poverty, but came to experience that many services available weren’t as effective as he’d hoped. He still saw many kids remaining unsuccessful, despite the best efforts of both himself and those around him.

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