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The Best Resources For Learning Why Teacher Merit Pay Is A Bad Idea

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My bias is betrayed in the title of this post. Instead of providing a detailed explanation here about my I think merit pay is a bad idea, I think I’ll leave it to those who are better versed and more articulate to to make the case.

Here are my choices for The Best Resources For Learning Why Teacher Merit Pay Is A Bad Idea:

Late last year, the most extensive study ever conducted on merit pay was unveiled in Tennessee, and showed it didn’t work. I’ll start off with several resources and analyses of that study:

Three Questions For Those Who Dismiss The Nashville Merit Pay Study comes from Matthew Di Carlo at the Shanker blog.

Persistently Low-Performing Incentives also comes from the Shanker blog. Here, Matthew also examines other merit pay studies in addition to the one in Tennessee.

The long, failed history of merit pay and how the Ed Department ignores it is a piece in the Washington Post where Diane Ravitch discusses this new study, as well as others.

The research question that wasn’t asked comes from Bruce Baker.

You can access the actual Tennessee study here.

Here are additional resources not related to the Nashville study:

What’s Wrong With Merit Pay is by Diana Ravitch.

Another report was published last year by the Education Commission of the States examining several studies on merit pay. How do they analyze them?

Each of the studies of the four pay-for-performance systems found no conclusive
evidence to link the new merit pay system with higher student achievement.

Merit Pay Misfires is by Al Ramirez and appeared in Educational Leadership.

Teachers as Performers and Pay-4-Performance Plans was written by Larry Cuban.

Superintendents oppose governor on teacher pay is a newspaper article from New Jersey.

Spend Money Like It Matters was written by Frederick Hess and appeared in Educational Leadership.

Attention To Pay is another good post from The Shanker blog.

Merit Pay: A Perspective From the Classroom is also worth a look.

Study: $75M teacher pay initiative did not improve achievement is a report on the failed use of teacher merit pay in New York City.

The Folly of Merit Pay is by Alfie Kohn.

Merit Pay Is Not Merited is by Walt Gardner at Ed Week.

Think tank: Overpaying staff can reap rewards for businesses is by Daniel Pink.

Thoughts on the Failure of Merit Pay is by Diane Ravitch.

No merit in merit pay for teachers is by Walt Gardner and appeared in the Guardian

Very Useful Articles On Motivation

Performance Anxiety is from The Drucker Institute.

Merit Pay: Pay teachers enough so that money is no longer an issue is by Mel Riddile. Thanks to David B. Cohen for the tip.

Dan Ariely On Pay For Performance

Holding Accountability To Account is a report by Richard Rothstein that was written in 2008, but it’s new to me.

The New York City Department of Education recently abandoned a three year teacher performance bonus program that cost $56 million. The New York Times reports:

The decision was made in light of a study that found the bonuses had no positive effect on either student performance or teachers’ attitudes toward their jobs.

The study’s authors said:

Teachers also reported that improving as teachers and seeing their students learn were bigger motivators than a bonus…

Here’s one more excerpt from the article:

The results add to a growing body of evidence nationally that so-called pay-for-performance bonuses for teachers that consist only of financial incentives have no effect on student achievement, the researchers wrote.

Bob Sutton has written a post about the study, titled New York City Halts Teacher Bonus Program: Another Blow to Evidence-Resistant Ideology that is a must-read, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published a column on it, too.

Zombie Postmortem: Why Merit Pay Died in NYC, and Why It’ll Rise Again (and Again, and Again…) is by Justin Baeder at Ed Week.

Merit Pay: The End Of Innocence? is from The Shanker Blog.

Will Rahm Emanuel’s Merit-pay System Work Where Others Haven’t? is by Freakonomics.

The Debate over Teacher Merit Pay: A Freakonomics Quorum has some very thoughtful responses.

“Idaho schools tie merit pay to parent involvement” is a post I wrote about an incredibly idiotic plan.

Variable pay-for-performance is a folly is a very interesting analysis from economists.

What Are Achievement Gains Worth — To Teachers? is an analysis of a failed New York merit pay scheme.

The Latest Wrinkle About Merit Pay for Teachers is by Walt Gardner at Education Week.

Stop Tying Pay to Performance:The evidence is overwhelming: It doesn’t work. is from The Harvard Business Review.

Merit pay, Merit pay, Merit pay… is from The Daily Kos and I’m also adding it to the same list.

Beyond Anecdotes: The Evidence About Financial Incentives And Teacher Retention is from The Shanker Blog.

As teacher merit pay spreads, one noted voice cries, ‘It doesn’t work’ is from The Washington Post.

Eight brief points about “merit pay” for teachers is by Daniel Pink.

The Trouble With Pay for Performance is from Education Week.

“Merit pay systems in the private sector have been found to hurt job performance”

Teachers’ performance pay ‘does not raise standards’ is from The BBC.

The Paradox Of Performance Pay is from Farnam Street.

Offering Financial Incentives ““may hinder the empathic processes needed to succeed” in “helping professions”

Will Pay For Performance Backfire? Insights From Behavioral Economics is by Steffie Woolhandler and Dan Ariely.

Promoting Quality Teaching: New Policy Report from Accomplished California Teachers has just been published. Here’s an excerpt from its description:

Currently, teacher pay is based primarily on years of service and continuing education, including advanced degrees. In recent years, pay-for-performance or merit-pay systems have been tried around the country—systems in which teachers are rewarded for student achievement, with achievement usually being measured by test scores.

The ACT report argues that neither system succeeds. And it offers a framework for professional growth and compensation that creates incentives for well-qualified individuals to enter the profession, continue to grow, and to what they know so that the entire enterprise of education improves. This report can be used to inform policy at the state and district level to create thoughtful, research-based compensation systems that actually improve teaching.

What Motivates Teachers: It’s More Than Money is from Education Week.

Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices is a report on three studies.

Need More Evidence About The Dangers Of Extrinsic Rewards? Here It Is From The Harvard Business Review

How Many Studies Must A Man Do Before He Gives Up On Trying To Prove Extrinsic Motivation Works?

The Institute Of Education Sciences has announced that out of three approved studies of a New York performance pay program, one showed across the board negative effects on student achievement; another showed negative effects in some areas and no effect in others; and a third one showed no effect at all (thanks to Morgan Polikoff).

The first study was conducted by Roland Fryer, who has turned into Captain Ahab going after the Moby Dick of using pay to increase student achievement.

Must-Read Column By Joseph Stiglitz In NY Times: “In No One We Trust”

Teachers in Lee, MA, Return Merit Pay is from Diane Ravitch’s blog.

Performance pay for teachers: what is the true cost? is from The Guardian.

Pay-for-Performance for CEOs and Teachers is by Larry Cuban.

NY Times Column Skewers Performance Pay

For Reformers: An Important Paper on Worker Compensation and Incentives is by Paul Bruno, and is a very important piece.

Incentive Pay Programs Do Not Affect Teacher Motivation or Reported Practices: Results From Three Randomized Studies is from Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Additional suggestions are welcome.

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You might also want to explore the nearly 600 other “The Best…” lists I’ve compiled.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

7 Comments

  1. Here’s one you might consider adding: Dan Pink’s take on Merit Pay (as it applies to his book Drive): http://tborash.posterous.com/dan-pinks-take-on-merit-pay

  2. Just my opinion, of course, but when I blogged about a politician who wanted to bring in Merit Pay for teachers, should he get elected, my post generated other interesting opinions. It’s hard to believe any intelligent person thinks this is a good idea for any profession (other than sales commisions!). Teachers are surely less motivated by money than anything else…. http://readlisaread.edublogs.org/2011/01/05/dear-kevin-falcon-about-teacher-merit-pay/

  3. There’s some great research on this as well. If you have access to the American Education Research Journal (through a library database), John Papay and Heather Hill have both recently written articles demonstrating empirically some of the problems of merit pay schemes. Papay notes that if you give kids three standard, standardized tests on the same topic, you can get three totally different teacher rankings. Teachers who look like the best with their kids MCAS reading scores can look terrible on their SAT reading scores and vice versa. Hill did a bunch of teacher observations, and found that if you sit in math teacher’s classrooms, you can observe teachers who regularly spout misinformation who show up in the top half or third of teacher merit rankings.

  4. Hi Larry,

    I appreciate the wealth of info you share on Twitter!

    Perhaps you’ll find this by Marion Brady worthy of including with your merit pay resources. Merit Pay Problematic, Money Is Not the Ultimate Motivator for Teachers – A former supporter of merit pay for teachers tells why it doesn’t work. http://teachers.net/gazette/JUL09/brady/

    More informal, but interesting as the posts are directly from teachers is this compilation of responses to an informal survey at Teachers.Net: Teachers Grade Merit Pay http://teachers.net/gazette/wordpress/editor/teachers-grade-merit-pay/.

  5. Larry, thank you for this invaluable list of resources on the bad idea that never dies. I will be sharing this far and wide.

  6. Pingback: Merit Pay for Alberta Teachers | Teaching on Purpose

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