October 5, 2010

Merit Has to Be Intrinsic

Justin Katz

One begins to feel that those testing merit pay for teachers are deliberately missing the point — at least by the time their findings filter down through the mainstream media. Here's the latest:

Offering big bonuses to teachers failed to raise students' test scores in a three-year study released Sept. 21 that calls into question the Obama administration's push for merit pay to improve education.

The study, conducted in the metropolitan Nashville school system by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives, was described by the researchers as the nation’s first scientifically rigorous look at the effects of merit pay for teachers.

It found that students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores registered the same gains on standardized exams as those whose teachers were given no such incentives.

In absorbing the implications of these results, we must first absorb the relevance of this factor, offered at the end of the article (and not printed at all in the Providence Journal reprint, by the way):

Only about half of the 300 teachers originally in the Nashville study were left at the end of the three years because some retired, moved to other schools, or stopped teaching math. About 40 teachers got bonuses each year. Overall, the researchers said, test scores rose modestly for both groups of students during the three-year study, suggesting that the financial incentives made no difference.

Now, let's ignore the possibility that the results of a study that loses half of its participants is of questionable validity. And let's put aside practical questions that arise from that datum, such as:

  • Did teachers from both groups exit the study at equal rate?
  • If not, could the possibility of receiving a bonus have helped to retain teachers, or the probability of not earning a bonus have inspired exit?

Let's also take off the table the possibility that teachers in the control group, in keeping with their unions' strong and frequently stated distrust of merit-pay systems, tried especially hard so as to disprove the thesis that they'd try harder if it meant a bonus (thereby effectively confirming the thesis in an unmeasurable way).

At least some of us who support them see merit pay as the palpable incentive at the end of an entire reworking of the system to increase accountability up the education and administration chain and as a long-term process of changing the way in which teachers think about their jobs.

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""openly gay individuals and single mothers who are involved in a sexual relationship, should NOT be allowed to teach""
Senator Jim DeMint

Posted by: Sammy at October 5, 2010 10:25 PM

Well,sammy,I guess the folks in SC don't give a rat's ass what you think because DeMint has no likeliehood of being defeated.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 6, 2010 5:09 AM

There was a good thread on this on that other blog:


I think I said what I needed to say in those comments. Basically, that if we -eliminate- automatic raises and steps and replace them with merit-based steps (not bonuses), we would dramatically change the face of teaching over a generation. Offering the same group of people a bonus isn't going to change their abilities, but changing who stays in the group over the decades will.

One thing this study -does- show us is that -existing- teachers are already doing the best they can. Paying them more won't improve performance. I think the goal should be rewarding the best and getting the worst out of the schools through attrition.

Posted by: mangeek at October 6, 2010 12:16 PM

Want literate,able students? It's simple. Use the teaching and disciplinary methods of the Catholic nuns during the '50's.

Posted by: helen at October 6, 2010 9:14 PM

Their response, their dad home. That's when Olson took off his costume and revealed himself. Olson also surprised his youngest daughter, Irelee, while she was in class. He said he has not spent one minute away from her. And though it was hard to be really so close to his kids but not be in the position to see them to keep the surprise, Olson said it was worth it. He said, I know the kids will remember, especially Josh and Kiernan in the frosty outfit. Irelee was constantly talking to me, giggling, and hugging me and smiling. It was really nice, I liked it a great deal. Olson is home for now, heading back to his base on January 3rd. He will likely to be deployed in March.

Posted by: AntoinetteEspinoza at December 28, 2012 6:42 AM
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