Merit pay for teachers is under heavy debate but still being considered as a program that could be implemented within the next four years with Race to the Top dollars, according to a recent Times Herald article. Current teachers would be given the option to choose between the merit pay plan or stay on the same pay scale, which is currently determined by education level and years of teaching experience. Some teachers and most unions are against the push to turn teaching into a merit-paid industry because it discourages the collaboration most school communities work so hard to build and maintain. The merit-pay idea sprouts from a basic economic theory that people will work harder if their work is tied to monetary gains. However, teachers are also afraid the administrators who are responsible for spreading the bonuses are not only unqualified to decide whether a teacher is deserving, but they don’t have a system to accurately measure which numbers add up to student success.
Harvard economist Roland Fryer concluded the $75 million spent on the New York City experiment for teacher merit pay did nothing to increase student achievement. Researchers used math and English scores to gauge academic achievement and found scores worsened since 2007, when the monetary incentive was first put in place.
The experiment targeted 200 high-need schools and 20,000 teachers between the 2007-08 and 2009-10 schools years, before it was quietly phased out. For students, there were negligible outcomes in attendance, behavioral problems, Regents exam scores, and graduation rates.
Researchers believe the reason the initiative failed in the US, while proving to work in other countries, is because it was unclear which and how many of the test scores influenced teacher pay.
Philip Greenspun, computer scientist, educator, and early internet entrepreneur, writes on his blog, “… I was surprised that anyone thinks merit pay will work. Restaurants aren’t very important to our society or our future. Great empires have been built by countries with bad restaurants. Yet nobody would propose having restaurant compensation be determined by a government bureaucracy assigning ‘merit’ to each restaurant. We allow citizens to choose which restaurant to visit and eventually the bad restaurants wither away and disappear due to lack of customers.”
Where do you stand in the debate? Is there something you would do to improve a merit-pay initiative in your state? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.