Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Teacher Pay for Student Performance: The Fiction That Spends Millions

Ask any teacher whether receiving a bonus will result in their students performing better on standardized tests, and the answer is almost universally “In What Universe?”

In what universe, I ask, does a teacher work harder for the promise of additional dollars in their bank account when a) there is statistically no guarantee of a significant change in score results and b) they are already doing all that they can to promote learning in their classrooms.

The truth of this is all around us but it took a study by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives to state the obvious: performance incentives do not produce test score improvement.

Not at all.

The study, described in this AP article in the Houston Chronicle, describes a pay for performance program in Nashville, Tennessee, a study that sampled 300 teachers about half of whom participated in a pay for performance system, and the other half did not.

Within this population where participating teachers received up to $15,000 per year in bonuses if their students’ scores improved, there was no difference in student performance between the participating teachers, and those who taught with no bonus incentives at all. None.

Well, duh.

AFT leader Randi Weingarten praised the study which has borne out what the union, and any given teacher has been saying for years: performance incentives don’t work.

From AP, quoting Wiengarten:
“Merit pay is not the panacea that some would like it to be. There are no quick fixes in education. Providing individual bonuses for teachers standing alone does not work.”
Said Miami teacher Jennifer Conboy:

“Merit pay is an excuse to resist the attempt of teachers to get fair pay in the first place. On a personal level, merit pay would do nothing to me. I took this job because I think education is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and if I cared about democracy — which I do — then I had a responsibility to do whatever I could to strengthen education.”
Merit pay, is in short, a way to demonstrate to voters that the “good” teachers are being rewarded at the expense of the “poor” ones and this is an effective use of taxpayer dollars. The fallacy of this argument is now laid bare for all to see. Merit pay, is in short, an attempt to go cheap on teacher compensation, all the while propagating the myth that tax dollars are being effectively spent.

That these study results fly in the face of President Obama’s merit pay political stance is not lost on me, but I doubt that it will serve to alter the position of the Obama Administration here. The Obama Administrations education policy with regard to pay for performance is one of their few regressive positions that I have been able to identify.

But the flaw is now out there for all to see. Maybe someday, someone is going to wake up and realize that good teachers are being passed over for merit pay because they teach the wrong subjects, because they live in the wrong part of town, or because their colleagues from the lower grades effectively dropped the ball.

Teaching is a team sport. In continuing the sports analogy, giving merit pay for individual teaching performance is like giving a bonus to the wide receiver for catching the ball in the end zone, but ignoring the right tackle that prevented his quarterback from getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The problem with these type of rewards/punishment is that no school system can guarantee that they can control for all the confounding variables that impact students lives before they walk into the classroom. As a matter of fact before we tried something like this corporate incentive model, we would have to completely redesign schools and how they function. In this economic climate that isn't likely to happen. Until then we will continue to follow the rule of 3rds when sorting students in this archaic model.