Archives for category: Merit pay

Three years after the Newark Teachers Union agreed to a merit pay plan funded by Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, the union is now resisting renewal of the plan. The new president of the union says it didn’t work. This should not be a surprise. Merit pay has been tried and failed consistently for nearly 100 years. (See the chapter on merit pay in my 2013 book, Reign of Error.) Merit pay failed in Nashville in 2010; it failed in New York City, in Chicago, in Texas, and elsewhere in the past five years. Corporate reformers never admit failure, so they can’t stop trying to revive merit pay, despite the fact that there is neither research nor evidence to support it.

It was hailed as a breakthrough when the bargain was struck: Top-performing teachers in Newark could get bigger paychecks.

The provision in a 2012 contract struck between the state-run school district and the Newark Teachers Union was the first of its kind in New Jersey, and it was made possible because of a massive donation intended to improve education in the city.

But three years later, the contract has expired, and the new president of the local union says that it hasn’t worked and that it’s not a sure thing the teachers union will agree to keep the provision in its current form. Several Newark teachers said that they had real problems with the contract and that the merit pay hasn’t worked, though none were willing to speak on the record for fear of reprisals.

Talks for a deal to replace it haven’t started, and the contract with the merit pay remains in place.

The deal was made possible because of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to education causes in Newark, announced five years ago. His foundation agreed to pay not only for the cost of the merit bonuses, but also for retroactive raises for educators who had worked two years on a previous contract, going without raises for that duration. The total cost to Zuckerberg for the deal was more than $48 million, or nearly half his contribution. While $30 million of the money contributed by Zuckerberg and matching donors is left, it’s not clear whether it will help pay for a new contract.

For advocates for education reform, it was a big deal. Gov. Chris Christie helped hash out the contract.

Those reformers say that teachers should be paid like many people in other industries are, with paychecks reflecting their results rather than just their experience.

Count on corporate reformers to ignore evidence and to keep doing the same thing over and over again, no matter how many times it fails.

Hillsborough County in Florida was one of the major beneficiaries of the Gates Foundation’s fetish for teacher evaluation and bonus pay. Gates pledged “up to” $100 million, but is refusing to pay the last $20 million because there has been so little evidence of the link between bonuses and test scores. Duh. If the Gates Foundation read the research on incentive pay, it would have spent the money reducing class sizes for the neediest children.

The Gates program has cost a total of $271 million, including Gates’ $80 million.

The Hillsborough plan inspired state legislation:

“Enacted a year after Hillsborough launched its project, Senate Bill 736 in the Florida Legislature phased out teacher tenure and tied pay to supervisor evaluations and student test scores.”

The program never met its goal of firing 5% of teachers every year:

“The original proposal and a 2010 timeline called for the district to fire 5 percent of its teachers each year for poor performance. That would amount to more than 700 teachers. The thinking was they would be replaced by teachers who earned entry level wages, freeing up money to pay the bonuses for those at the top.

“But the mass firings never happened. While an undetermined number of teachers resign out of dissatisfaction or fear that they will be fired, only a handful of terminations happen because of bad evaluations.”

The Gates Foundation has another flop.

MaryEllen Elia, the superintendent of the Hillsborough school district when it received the Gates grant,, was fired by the school board, then hired this year as state superintendent in Néw York.

“Late in the process, the foundation rejected several of the district’s funding requests for Empowering Effective Teachers, which involves evaluating teachers using specially trained peers and bumping their pay with the idea that it would boost student performance.

“Each of the proposals were robustly outlined and presented,” a district report said.

“But Gates officials responded by pointing to language in the original agreement saying the foundation had promised “up to” $100 million, not necessarily the whole amount, according to the report.

“The district picked up the unpaid costs.

“Much of the disagreement amounted to a change in Gates’ philosophy, Brown said. “After a few years of research,” she said, “they believed there was not enough of a connection between performance bonuses and greater student achievement.”

Now for some laughs, enjoy Peter Greene’s take on Gates’ cancellation of $20 million. He reminds us that Hillsborough was a jewel in Gates’ crown in 2012.

Peter writes:

“Well, that was 2012. A few other things have happened in the meantime. Back in 2010, Arne Duncan and Dennis Van Roekel stopped by to make a fuss, but that was about the last time that anybody wanted to throw an EET party.

“That fire 5% of the sucky teachers thing? It should have gotten rid of 700 (700!!!) teachers– you know, the expensive ones, because everyone knows that the bad teachers that need to be rooted out are, coincidentally, the older teachers who cost a bunch of money. But it never happened.

“And that $100 million grant that Kinser was so proud of? Funny thing. Gates officials would now like you to know that the grant actually said “up to” $100 million.

“I am kind of excited about that, because I know realize that I can tell, say, a used car dealer that I will pay “up to” seventy grand for a car and just pay five thousand bucks. I could promise to buy a new house with “up to” $10 million and just fork over a check for $10.75. I do regret not knowing this trick when my children were young and I could have bribed them to do chores with offers of “up to” $100 for mowing the lawn.”

Now for a deep analysis, read Mercedes Schneider’s analysis of the Hillsborough debacle. The Gates money was a Trojan horse. Not only did it fail to produce a new generation of super-teachers, it drained the district’s reserves.

The Gates money–$80 million, not the promised $100 million–was a cause of great celebration when it was announced. Hillsborough would be a “national model.” In the end, Superintendent Elia was fired in January 2015, the district lost millions, and Gates learned…what?

Mercedes writes:

“Of course, Gates had some ideas about how this “teacher effectiveness” business should work. The report linked above has as its second sentence, “A teacher’s effectiveness has more impact on student learning than any other factor under the control of school systems, including class size, school size, and the quality of after-school programs.” When pro-corporate-reform organizations toss around such statements, they never seem to follow it with the fact that factors external to the classroom hold far more sway that does the teacher. (In analyzing the proportion of teacher influence captured via value-added modeling– VAM– the American Statistical Association notes that teacher influence accounts for between 1 and 14 percent of variance in student test scores. Thus, between 86 and 99 percent of a student’s test score is out of the teacher’s control.)

“Nevertheless, ignoring that the teacher controls so little of student outcomes in the form of market-driven-reform-loving test scores, in its efforts to try to purchase higher student test scores, the Gates Foundation offered ten school districts nationwide the multi-million-dollar-funded opportunity to prove that teachers could indeed be cajoled into producing better “student achievement” (i.e., ever-higher test scores) when such teachers were measured by their students’ test scores and offered more money for “raising” said scores.

“As a 2009 winner of an Empowering Effective Teachers grant, Hillsborough was thrilled (“We’ll be a national model!”). A December 21, 2015 archive of Hillsborough schools’ “Empowering Teachers” webpage includes a number of enthusiastic responses regarding the newly-acquired, $100 million Gates grant. Front and center in these celebratory public statements is then-Hillsborough superintendent, MaryEllen Elia (Then-Governor Charlie Crist: “I commend Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and the Hillsborough County School District for their enthusiasm and commitment to working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation during the next seven years to improve student academic performance through rewarding high quality teachers both professionally and monetarily. The foundation’s generous grant award of $100 million will greatly enhance the work the district has already done in this area.”)

“However, part of the Hillsborough-Gates agreement involved Hillsborough’s ponying up money of its own– which ended up eating into the Hillsborough schools’ reserves and threatening its bond rating. As reported in the August 04, 2015, Tampa Bay Tribune, the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative is not the only financial stressor affecting the Hillsborough bond rating, but it is nevertheless noteworthy.”

How many more such defeats can the reformers take before they figure out that their ideas are failures?

A key Republican leader, who is closely tied to Florida’s booming and profitable charter industry, slipped into the state budget a bill to pay a bonus to teachers with high SAT scores. His bill is known as “Best and Brightest,” assuming that those with the highest SAT scores are or will be the best teachers.

In this post, Florida teacher Melissa Halpern explains the absurdity of this plan. Veteran teachers will get the bonus if they can locate their SAT scores, even if they took the test 20 years ago, but only if they also received a “highly effective” rating based on test scores.

Halpern explains the absurdity:

“Let’s start with the very notion of rewarding a correlation. Incentives work when people have the power to respond to them with effort and action, when they can initiate a cause of success. What if studies found that teaching performance correlated with race, gender, or socioeconomic status (all of which are correlated with SAT scores, by the way)? Would we ever find it acceptable to offer a gender bonus? Of course not. Aside from being discriminatory, such an incentive would be illogical; it offers no room for effort, no goal to work toward.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to discern which correlations are actually causal, but common sense helps. While a teacher’s 20-year-old SAT score is probably not the cause of her success in the classroom, her training, credentials, and years of experience might be; incidentally, these are all proven correlations with teacher performance that Florida has downplayed under its current “merit pay” system, which replaced the old experience-based salary schedule in 2010….

“It seems, then, that the Best and Brightest incentive is not really an incentive at all, and that whatever it is, it certainly wasn’t devised to reward experienced teachers in the first place.

“So who does stand to benefit from this program? Primarily new teachers, especially those who might like to grab a bonus for a short teaching stint, and bail for a career that actually pays. Teach For America corp members, who are only held to a two-year teaching commitment, might just fit the bill.

“Interestingly, teachers coming out of TFA tend to populate the revolving employment doors of charter schools run by for-profit companies—much like the ones with whom Rep. Fresen happens to have close business ties.

“It shouldn’t come as a shock that a Florida legislator might vote for a financially motivated policy in the name of public education—at least it makes their ultimate goal of privatizing education a little more transparent.”

Celeste Richter, a highly rated Florida teacher, does not want a bonus for a test she took nearly 25 years ago.

The legislature passed a plan to award $10,000 to teachers who had high SAT scores in high school. The bonus is also available to currents teachers who are rated “highly effective” but only if they had high SAT scores. Veteran teachers may not be able to obtain their SAT scores, or learn whether they were in top 20%, as the law requires.

“I refuse,” said Richter, a highly-effective rated AP government teacher at Wesley Chapel High School. “A test I took in 1991 is not valid to say what a quality educator I am.”

“Richter, who’s entering her 19th year of teaching, isn’t looking up her SAT scores, though she recalls doing well. She doesn’t want the state’s award of up to $10,000, though she really could use it.

“As a moral principle, I don’t believe this is an effective way to reward teachers for a good job,” she said, further noting that the final amount will likely be far less than the maximum. “I’m not going to run after crumbs.”

For standing on principle, for courage and candor, Celeste Richter joins the blog’s honor roll.

Many people think the law is a giveaway to Teach for America, who will earn more than 10-year veterans and leave in two or three years. Its author, Erik Fresen, is a member of a family that owns a large charter chain, Academica.

Steve Nelson, head of a progressive private school in Néw York City, writes vividly and cogently about the inevitable failure of so-called reform.

The corporate reforms fail because they are built on extrinsic motivation, that is, a regime of carrots and sticks to drive teachers and students to comply with reformers’ demands.

Extrinsic methods tend to depress motivation. People resent being compelled, and they lose the desire to do what they would have willingly done without the whip hand over them.

Intrinsic motivation, by contrast, brings out the best in people.

Nelson writes:

“Intrinsic motivation is driven by factors that emanate from within: Self-satisfaction, desire for mastery, curiosity, fulfillment, pleasure, self-realization, desire for independence, ethical needs, etc. Intrinsic motivation is a powerful innate characteristic of all humans, across cultures and societies. Anyone with children or working with children observes the natural intrinsic motivation of young children – a nearly insatiable curiosity, drive to explore, and desire for mastery.

“A considerable body of research confirms that intrinsic motivation is more powerful, long lasting and important. But intrinsic motivation steadily declines from 3rd grade until 8th or 9th grade as extrinsic structures dramatically increase. The stakes get higher. Tests increase in frequency and duration. Expectations around college and achievement ratchet up. Grade point averages, honor roles, valedictorians, salutatorians, class ranks, honor societies . . . all of these forms of extrinsic motivation are ubiquitous.”

As Jerome Bruner points out, “learning becomes steadily de-contextualized as children move from grade to grade. As school becomes more controlled, more about instruction than exploration, more about abstraction than experience, children’s natural intrinsic motivation declines. The learning is unrelated to their lives. Why would they care?”

Nelson concludes:

“Students and teachers are being subjected to increasingly punitive extrinsic structures: Scores, grades, evaluations, assessments, punishments, discipline, rigidity, standardization, absence of context, divorced from individual experience.
All the factors that stimulate and perpetuate intrinsic motivation are disappearing.

“To say education reform has it wrong is a monumental understatement. Policy makers and educational reformers seem hell bent on beating students and their teachers until their morale improves.

“That’s just stupid.”

In an article in The Atlantic, Paul Barnwell describes how difficult it was for him when he was a new teacher assigned to a low-performing school.


In a span of three minutes, the group in room 204 had morphed from contained to out of control. Two boys were shooting dice in the back of the room, and as I instructed them to put their crumpled dollar bills away, several others took off their shoes and began tossing them around like footballs. Before I could react, one boy broke into my supply closet. He snatched handfuls of No. 2 pencils and highlighters and sprinted out of the room, slamming the door behind him.


He was 22 years old, and he was working in one of Kentucky’s most troubled, underperforming, and dysfunctional middle schools. He quit before Christmas. Eventually, he realized that the school needed experienced teachers and stability, but federal policy does not set a priority on either. In fact, NCLB and Race to the Top encourage churn, pretending to “fix” schools by firing principals and teachers and moving in new and often inexperienced teachers.


How can struggling schools attract experienced teachers? Combat pay has repeatedly failed; so has merit pay. The practice of tying teachers’ compensation to test scores will only make matters worse by incentivizing teachers to avoid the toughest schools.


He concludes:


I asked several of my public-school teaching colleagues from around the country—from New Hampshire to Washington—what it would take for them to voluntarily switch to the neediest schools in their regions. Julie Hiltz, an educator in Hillsborough County, Florida, with nearly 13 years of teaching experience, told me that the following would need to be in place: The ability to make local decisions, professional development designed and led in-house, more time for collaboration, and smaller class sizes, among other factors. Unfortunately, current guidelines for struggling schools under No Child Left Behind often disenfranchise administrators and staff.


Lauren Christensen, a social-studies teacher in the Waltham, Massachusetts, with six years of experience, currently works in a low-poverty school. I asked her if she’d voluntarily transfer to a high-poverty school in her area. “Maybe, she said, “but I would need to know that the whole school would be supported with a long-term commitment [from decision-makers]. I think the pressure of standard assessments and the stress put on educators to turn ‘failing’ schools around immediately might be too much to overcome.”


When I think back to my first year, I’m no longer bitter. I’m now completing my 11th year as a teacher; I mentor new educators and advocate for better support and working conditions. But unless those resources are in place, I wouldn’t voluntarily work in another struggling school.



Vincent Marsala, a National Board Certified Teacher in Ohio, explains what our politicians don’t understand: merit pay and stack ranking don’t work. They don’t work in business and they don’t work in schools.


He writes:



First, teachers will be forced to compete against each other based on student test scores. Eventually, teachers may resent having a special needs/low performing child in class because a student’s inability to do well on tests will reflect poorly on a teacher. Adding the idea of merit pay based on test scores/evaluations, and teachers may resent these students even more. Next, when teachers work together, kids win, but teachers, just like the workers at Microsoft, are human, too. Teachers competing for the highest test score and biggest bonus will in-fight, not collaborate, and instead of freely sharing ideas, teachers, will hide them from each other and ultimately students.


All of these misguided reforms are now hurting students and things will soon get worse. Students are about to be tested more than ever, just so we can get the data needed to stack rank teachers and schools. PARCC’s newly released testing guidance to schools calls for 9¾ hours testing time for third grade, 10 hours for grades 4-5 , 10¾ hours for grades 6-8 and 11 to 11¼ hours for grades 9-12. Of course, this testing schedule does not even account for teacher created tests.


Dealing with this obvious over-testing has brought on a nonsensical answer from Ohio State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Richard A. Ross. In order to reduce testing time, schools may do something that his own department does not recommend. His solution is shared attribution for teachers of art, music, foreign languages and some years of science and social studies. In simple terms, up to 50 percent of these teachers’ ratings, plus pay and hiring and firing decisions may be based on student tests in other subject areas, on students these teachers may have never even seen. Meanwhile, some of these subjects may no longer be taught by certified teachers if the Ohio State Board of Education has its way. The Board wants to eliminate the 5 of 8 rule that demands that school districts hire five full-time teachers in eight areas, including music, art, physical education, library science, nursing and social work, for every 1,000 students. With the dysfunction occurring at the state level because of these types of misguided reforms, is it any wonder why young people are bailing on the profession? According to the U.S. Department of Education’s estimates, teacher-preparation programs enrollments have shrunk by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012, with California losing approximately 22,000 teacher-prep enrollments, or 53 percent, between 2008-09 and 2012-13.


Teaching is not a simple task that can be easily assessed. While on paper, stack ranking and merit pay sound fine and easy to devise, it will be a debacle. American schools are not in crisis, and collaborating, student-focused teachers are already working hard and producing great results for children every day.



Here is a curious turn of events. Just as the federal government is forcing schools across the nation to evaluate and rank teachers using dubious metrics, corporations are beginning to back away from simplistic performance measures. The change reflects the philosophy of business guru W. Edwards Deming, who staunchly opposed merit pay and rankings, on grounds that they demoralized employees and made for a less efficient workplace.

This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

The Trouble With Grading Employees

Performance ratings such as ‘meets expectations’ sap workers’ morale,
but firms aren’t sure they can do without them

Can a year’s worth of work be boiled down to a stock phrase like
“meets expectations”?

As companies reinvent management by slashing layers of hierarchy or
freeing workers to set their own schedules, performance ratings—which
grade workers on a 1-5 scale or with labels like “on
target”—stubbornly hang on. Companies like Gap Inc.,Adobe Systems
Inc.and Microsoft Corp. abolished such ratings after leaders decided
they deterred collaboration and stoked staffers’ anxieties. Yet other
companies are having a harder time letting go.

Intel Corp. has long rated and ranked its approximately 105,000
workers on a four-level scale, from “outstanding” to “improvement
required.” Devra Johnson, a human-resources director at the chip
maker, observed that ratings tended to deflate morale in a good chunk
of the 70% of the company’s workforce that receives a “successful”
rating each year—the second-lowest label.

“We’d call them the walking wounded,” she said.

Human-resources managers conducted an experiment to test a new way of
managing performance, allowing 1,700 workers in the HR department to
go unrated, although not without feedback, for about two years,
according to Ms. Johnson.

Managers found they could still differentiate performance and
distribute compensation. However, when Ms. Johnson’s team presented
its findings, company executives weren’t ready to give the labels up,
concerned that forgoing ratings would suck healthy tension out of the
workplace, she said. So the HR department started rating the employees
in the experiment again….

Marc Farrugia, the vice president for human resources at Sun
Communities Inc., is going through the “exhausting” process of
revamping performance management at the owner and operator of
manufactured housing communities. He’s concerned about the accuracy of
the company’s current approach to ratings; some managers just dole out
higher scores in order to maximize bonuses for employees they’re
scared might leave; others give everyone average ratings because it is
easy. Workers complain the ratings aren’t fair and don’t paint a true
picture of their annual performance.

“I’m being more and more convinced that ratings are doing more harm
than good,” Mr. Farrugia said….

Some executives worry that figuring performance measures, such as the
time it takes for restaurant workers to take an order, into reviews
might lack context.

“I have a real love-hate relationship with data,” said Kevin Reddy,the
CEO of fast-casual restaurant chain Noodles & Co. “You can get a false
sense of security if you zero in too closely on a rating system.”

The company moved away from numeric ratings about seven years ago but
still places workers into broad categories like “meets expectations.”
Mr. Reddy said he and his leadership team continue to question whether
they’re doing feedback right and motivating employees.

Jean Martin, a director at research and advisory firm Corporate
Executive Board who works with companies on performance management
systems, said executives are “giving the numbers too much power” by
endlessly debating their worth. An analysis of 30,000 employees by her
organization shows ratings don’t have a direct impact on performance,
she said.

Others say they have evidence showing that workers contribute less
after receiving a poor rating. David Rock, the director of the
NeuroLeadership Institute, a research firm that applies neuroscience
to the workplace, said ratings conjure a “threat response” in workers,
or “a sensation of danger,” especially if they don’t get the number
they expect. And the hangover from a bad rating can last for months,
Dr. Rock said….

Companies that have gotten rid of ratings say their employees feel
better about their jobs, and actually listen to managers’ feedback
instead of obsessing over a number. John Ritchie, a Microsoft
human-resources executive who goes by “J,” said the technology
company’s practice of rating and ranking employees discouraged
risk-taking and collaboration; since discontinuing the practice in
late 2013, teamwork is up, he said.

The internal change mirrors the shift CEO Satya Nadella is working to
effect externally, charming and collaborating with startups and
venture-capital firms so that Microsoft doesn’t get left behind in the
increasingly heterogeneous world of technology.

“We needed to change and everybody knew it,” Mr. Ritchie said of the
new performance management system.

The Gap’s new approach dumps ratings in favor of monthly coaching
sessions and frequent employee-manager conversations. But HR
executives had to convince leaders that the move wasn’t
“sacrilegious,” according to Eric Severson, the company’s co-head of
human resources.

Holly Bonds, a 17-year veteran of the company, said it was strange at
first; she was used to scanning her review for her rating and bonus
number. She now talks more frequently with her manager, so she has a
better idea of where she stands, a process that she’s found less
stressful than worrying about her rating.

“I haven’t missed it,” she said.

Write to Rachel Feintzeig at

Mercedes Schneider continúes her close reading of the Senate reauthorization bill, crafted by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patti Murray. This is part three. The others are linked inside her post.


You will find this an interesting post. You will see that the bill penalizes states that cut their education budget by more than 10%; that it allows but doesn’t mandate merit pay; that it includes a big loophole for Teach for America; and much more.


Mercedes is going through this bill line-by-line. Members of Congress would learn much by reading her reports.

Jersey Jazzman calls out journalist Jon Chait for being against political correctness except when it serves his purpose.

It seems Chait was deeply offended when I said that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is no educational expert. Her campaign to eliminate teacher tenure won’t improve education, I dared to say. We might, as a test case, compare the academic performance of states that have tenure with states that don’t, but that involves a rudimentary knowledge of actual research.

It is highly offensive to those bashing teachers to suggest that their campaign to remove teacher tenure and to provide merit pay has no evidence behind it and is illogical. They don’t like it when you point out that VAM sounds good but doesn’t work. If they read the statement of the American Statistical Association, they would be informed, but that requires research, or if you open the link, reading.


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