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Debate: Merit pay for teachers

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Is merit-based pay for teachers a good idea?

Background and context

The debate surrounding merit pay for teachers has existed for decades in many countries around the world. The debate has been particularly heated in the United States, where, since the 1920s, public schools began awarding pay primarily according to title and seniority rather than merit.
Many attempts have been made to introduce merit pay systems throughout this period, but it never gained widespread popularity on a national level. Now, however, political leaders such as Barack Obama have supported merit pay for teachers. This has reinvigorated the debate, with many groups falling on either side. The National Education Association, for example, has opposed merit pay, while the United Federation of Teachers supports the idea. There are many questions and sub-debates within this larger debate, which frame the many pros and cons. Here is a summary of them: Does merit-based pay improve education? Does it improve the quality of teaching by incentivizing hard work? Does it help attract and retain quality teachers and weed out bad teachers? Does merit pay take the fun and passion out of teaching and over-focus it on measures? Does it create undesirable competition between teachers and undercut cooperation? Does it discourage teachers from going to needy schools? Can teacher merit be successfully measured? Or does varying student performance get in the way? Is merit pay fairer to teachers? Does it fall pray to principal cronyism? Does it encourage teachers to cheat? Does the market demonstrate the importance of pay for performance? If teachers should be paid more in general, is merit pay the best way to do it? What do past examples of merit pay around the world demonstrate? Overall, is merit pay for teachers good education policy?

See Wikipedia: Merit pay for more background.

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Education: Does merit-based pay improve education?

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  • Merit pay improves teaching and student learning The Achievement Challenge Pilot Project (ACPP) is a five school merit pay program in Little Rock, Arkansas. Teachers could earn as much as an $11,000 bonus based on how much their students’ test scores improved. Researchers from the University of Arkansas reported on the program: "Students of teachers who are eligible for performance bonuses enjoy academic benefits. Further, many of the criticisms of merit pay programs simply have not proven true in Little Rock."[1]


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Con

  • Merit pay does nothing to improve student performance A study by the Urban Institute found some positive short-lived effects of merit pay, but concluded that most merit pay plans "did not succeed at implementing lasting, effective ... plans that had a demonstrated ability to improve student learning. ...little evidence from other research...that incentive programs (particularly pay-for-performance) had led to improved teacher performance and student achievements."[2]
  • Merit pay motivates teachers to over-focus on test scores Vivian Troen and Katherine C. Boles. "How ‘Merit Pay’ Squelches Teaching". Boston Globe. September 28, 2005: "The idea of merit pay, sometimes called pay for performance, was born in England around 1710. Teachers' salaries were based on their students' test scores on examinations in reading, writing, and arithmetic. The result was that teachers and administrators became obsessed with financial rewards and punishments, and curriculums were narrowed to include only the testable basics. ... So drawing, science, and music disappeared. Teaching became more mechanical as teachers found that drill and rote repetition produced the 'best' results. Both teachers and administrators were tempted to falsify results, and many did. The plan was ultimately dropped, signaling the fate of every merit plan initiative ever since."


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Quality teachers: Does merit pay help attract/retain quality teachers?

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Measuring merit: Can teacher merit be accurately measured?

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Pro

  • Teacher merit can be measured and help determine pay Robert Holland. "Merit Pay for Teachers: Can Common Sense Come to Public Education?". Lexington Institute. October 2005: "[Opponents of merit based pay] have argued that teacher evaluation is too subjective for merit pay to be distributed fairly.... [the] 'subjectivity' excuse for stonewalling merit pay is no longer valid, no matter what small degree of validity it ever had. The Great Excuse has been rendered null and void by a revolutionary development in education: the rise of value-added assessment (VAA).... As pioneered by Dr. William Sanders at the University of Tennessee in the early 1990s, VAA enables education supervisors (and the teachers themselves) to look at objective evidence of how effectively the teachers are helping individual students improve their achievement test scores year to year. This statistical analysis can inform teachers who seek to improve. It can also provide a basis for handsomely rewarding those teachers who make a real difference with their students."


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Fairness: Is merit-based pay fair?

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Pro

  • Better teachers should be paid more President Barack Obama said in March of 2009: teachers should be treated "like the professionals they are while also [being held] more accountable. Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement, and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools."[3]
President Barack Obama said in March of 2009: "It's time to start rewarding good teachers, stop making excuses for bad ones."[4]
  • Teachers should be paid on merit, not seniority and titles "Link Teacher Pay, Student Gains." An Atlanta Journal-Constitution. October 14, 2005.: "As substitutes for performance-based standards, school systems now reward teachers on degrees and seniority. Yet neither of those measures may correlate with student achievement. In this competitive economy, companies would close their doors if they paid low-performing employees the highest salaries just because they’d been there a long time or had a grad school diploma on their wall."[5]


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Con

  • Merit pay motivates teachers to cheat on test-scoring Merit pay creates an incentive for teachers to cheat, by improving student test scores so that they can appear to be doing better as a result of the teacher's work, resulting in bonuses and higher pay. Obviously, the resulting differences in pay would not be fair.


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More pay: Is merit-based pay a good way to increase teacher pay?

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Markets: Does merit pay in the market set a good model for pay in schools?

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Unions: How do unions relate to merit pay?

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Pro

  • Teachers unions oppose merit-based pay just to remain relevant Thomas Hruz. "Quality Control: Merit Pay and Why the Teachers’ Unions Stand in the Way." Wisconsin Interest. Fall 2000: "The threat that teachers’ unions see from a performance-based pay system is clear: it would make them less relevant. The importance of teachers’ unions is reliant upon their superior ability to get for teachers better working conditions and compensation. If individual teachers, or groups of teachers within schools, are able to garner control over the effectuation of their own compensation levels, then the unions are faced with the potential of these teachers saying that the unions’ services are no longer needed, at least when it comes to bargaining for salaries."[6]


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Case studies: What do past case studies demonstrate regarding merit pay?

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Pro

  • Merit-based pay has succeeded in many places Steven Malanga. "Why Merit Pay Will Improve Teaching". About.com. Summer 2001: "Cincinnati’s public school system, the first to experiment with performance incentives, persuaded its teachers’ union in 1997 to do a test run of merit pay. Two years later, a ten-school pilot program, designed by administrators and teachers, got under way. Essential to union support was the pilot’s proposed use of peers to evaluate teachers. 'The peer evaluators, who have no stake in how teachers are judged, are important to the perception of the fairness of the system,' observes Kathleen Ware, associate superintendent of Cincinnati schools. Using Danielson’s criteria of good teaching—they include class preparation and clarity of presentation—the principals and peer evaluators devoted 20 to 30 hours to assessing every teacher in the ten chosen schools. Based on how they scored, teachers then wound up in one of five salary categories, with "novices" making the least money and 'accomplished' teachers the most. [...] The pilot proved successful. A majority of teachers involved found it fair and judged the standards used as appropriate for the whole school district. The city’s board of education adopted it in the spring of 2000, and, in a subsequent election, union members signed on."


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Pro/con sources:

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See also

External links

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