No merit in merit pay

I am not sure who came up with the concept of merit pay for teachers, but I suspect it wasn’t a teacher. More than likely it was a collection of selfanointed education “experts” who haven’t set foot in a classroom – except for maybe a few photo ops – since their own graduation days. Those are the folks, including Gov. Rick Perry, who have been persistently promoting the bad idea.

As you may have read by now, merit pay was shot down (again) by a new study. This one was conducted over three years by Vanderbilt University on the Nashville school system. It reinforces a study, released last fall, dismissing as ineffective a $300 million, Perrypromoted merit plan in Texas.

The Nashville study concluded that offering teachers annual bonuses of as much as $15,000 had no effect on student test scores. It suggested that teachers already were working so hard that the promise of extra money failed to convince them to work harder or change the way they taught.

About 300 math teachers in grades 5 through 8 participated in the study, which was backed by federal funding. Half the teachers were offered bonuses for hitting targets for gains on annual test scores, and half were ineligible for bonuses. Researchers found no significant differences on class results between the two groups.

“Pay reform is often thought to be the magic bullet. That doesn’t appear to be the case here,” Matthew Springer, a Vanderbilt education professor who led the study, was quoted in the Washington Post.

In the Texas study last year, researchers from Vanderbilt, Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri concluded that the meritbased Texas Educators Excellence Grant (TEEG) program also had no impact on student achievement gains. Their findings were based on TAKS reading scores for more than 140,000 students from participating schools.

The TEEG program, which grew out of a pilot merit pay program established by Perry, was discontinued by the Legislature after the 200809 school year. Lawmakers replaced that plan with a $200 millionayear firstcousin, the District Awards for Teacher Excellence (DATE), which also is based on improved test scores, among other indicators of student achievement. The program is optional with districts.

Merit pay is based on a faulty premise, the premise that teachers are in it for the money. Teachers want and deserve decent pay, but they aren’t in the classroom to get rich. They are in the classroom because they want to educate kids. Teachers who decide they can no longer afford the profession will soon try something else, not wait around for a chance at bigger paychecks because their students had higher test scores than the kids in the classroom down the hall.

Texas needs to take steps to increase teacher retention, including more opportunities for professional development and higher pay for experienced teachers. But merit pay isn’t the answer.


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