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!

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