The National Bureau of Economic Research has been studying whether performance-based incentives--merit pay increases based upon tough evaluations--improve teacher performance and retention. The idea is simple: A teacher works hard, students demonstrate achievement, and that teacher receives a pay raise ("merit pay").
A recent NBEC study compared retention and performance outcomes among low-performing teachers whose ratings imply that they should be dismissed to outcomes among high-performing teachers whose ratings imply they should receive a substantial increase in pay. The results:
- Low-performing teachers left schools by 11% (that's more than 50% of low-performing teachers). Better yet, those low-performing teachers who remained improved in subsequent evaluations.
- Financial incentives improved the performance of high-performing teachers.
It has been argued for decades that experience and credentials improve teaching. But,time and again, when policies have been implemented in school districts based upon this argument, it has been demonstrated that experience and credentials don't guarantee student achievement.
Isn't that why schools exist? When student achievement provides the standard for evaluating teachers, merit pay seems to work.
Yet, a lot of people disagree.
The naysayers argue that the purported correlation between merit pay and improved performance neglects a host of other, confounding factors. Among them:
- low-achieving students tend to come from low-income and single-parent families lacking the resources that students coming from other demographics enjoy;
- student motivation is not a fixed quantity and even the best teachers cannot reach some students;
- low-achieving students attend schools that other low-achieving students attend, negatively impacting classroom and school culture;
- the false assumption that every child can achieve at specified levels; and,
- merit pay may work in the short term but not in the long term because most good teachers didn't enter the profession for the money but for more altruistic goals.
For all of the rhetoric, however, the naysayers haven't put forward solutions that actually work. All they do is cost taxpayers more money.
That's the real problem. The naysayers keep reform from taking place by discrediting ideas that offer evidence they can work. And who suffers? The very people the naysayers claim to be worried about: students.
The truth may be that the naysayers are more worried about protecting themselves, their jobs, and their low-performing peers.
Let the discussion begin...
To read the NBER study, click on the following link:
"Incentives, Selection, and Teacher Performance: Evidence from IMPACT."