Archives for category: Merit pay

The Guardian of London has an excellent article that explains why payment by results always fails. The article is based on a study that the article links to.

Two examples of payment by results in the current “education reform” strategy that is promoted by the Obama administration: basing teacher evaluation on test scores and merit pay.

The article calls payment by results in “dangerous idiocy” and explains why:

“Payment by results is a simple idea: people and organisations should only get paid for what they deliver. Who could argue with that? If your job is to get people back to work, then find them a job dammit.

“Plenty of people working in local government and public services are already starting to realise this is nonsense, and a pernicious, damaging nonsense at that. The evidence is very clear: if you pay (or otherwise manage performance) based on a set of pre-defined results, it creates poorer services for those most in need. It is the vulnerable, the marginalised, the disadvantaged who suffer most from payment by results.

“Here’s why: payment by results does not reward organisations for supporting people to achieve what they need; it rewards organisations for producing data about targets; it rewards organisations for the fictions their staff are able to invent about what they have achieved; it pays people for porkies.

“We know that common things happen when people use payment by results, and other outcomes-based performance management systems. There have been numerous studies that show that such systems distort organisational priorities and make organisations focus on doing the wrong things – and they make people lie.

“This lying takes all sorts of different forms. Some of them are subtle forms of deception: teachers who teach to the test or who only enter pupils for exams they know they are going to pass; employment support that helps only those likely to get a job and ignores those most in need; or hospitals that reclassify trolleys as beds, and keep people waiting in ambulances on the hospital doorstep until they know they can be seen within a target time. In the literature, this is known as gaming the system…..

“Sadly, the distortion of practice by payment by results doesn’t just stop with managers. The evidence shows that it also undermines the practice of frontline workers. It turns the relationship between support worker and client upside down. When payment-by-results practices are introduced, workers who used to ask their clients “How can I help you to achieve what you need?” instead think “How can you help me to produce the data I need?”

The article was written by Toby Lowe, a visiting fellow at Newcastle University business school and chief executive of Helix Arts, a charity that transforms lives through art. He is collecting stories from people who have been forced to lie by payment for results. you can reach him at Twitter: @tobyjlowe

EduShyster’s guest blogger Patrick Hayes, a fifth-grade teacher from Charleston, South Carolina, asks a simple question: “If you could ask Arne Duncan just one question what would it be?”

Try this one: “what would you get Bill gates for Boss’s Day? The man has everything.”

But he actually has a bunch more questions, which Duncan can answer with pre-packaged non-responsive answers.

Like: why do you push states to adopt value-added measurement, when your own department shows it has a failure rate of 36%?

Or, why do you promote merit pay, when it has failed everywhere?

Or, why do you keep bragging about Tennessee and D.C. when the other 11 states “using the same playbook… had below-average, flat, or negative growth?”

Lots more good questions to ask Arne, but Patrick does give us the answer to his first question:

“So Arne…whaddya’ get Bill Gates for Boss’s Day? Maybe you could ask your chief of staff and deputy secretary.

They used to work for him.”

Patrick, by the way, is the Director of EdFirstSC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group working to empower people who care about public schools. If you live in South Carolina or care about it, join EdFirstSC.

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

One of our Marion’s leading experts on teacher evaluation, Audrey Amrein Beardsley, here evaluates Michelle Rhee’s efforts to promote her failed ideas in South Carolina.

Rhee trots out her familiar rhetoric about bad teachers and failing schools in one of the nation’s poorest states, urging them to buy her snake oil. Will they buy? Or will they do some research?

Errol Louis is one sharp journalist. He is a newscaster for NY1, the city’s local all-news TV station. I have benn interviewed by him a few times and have always been impressed by his insight.

In this article, he explains how dumb merit pay is.

He notes that Governor Cuomo has proposed a $20,000 bonus for the state’s “highly effective” teachers. He didn’t say how he would pay for it. Maybe he would increase class size, lay off teachers, eliminate the arts.

Maybe no one told him that 50% of the state’s teachers were rated “highly effective.” That’s millions and millions of dollars.

Louis quotes Roland Fryer of Harvard, an economist who reviewed New York City’s failed merit pay plan.

Fryer says:

“I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior,” Fryer wrote. “If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools.”

Read more:

Watch this great video.

It explains in graphic language why merit pay always fails.

If you won’t documentation, read Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive.”

Where cognitive tasks are required, the larger the reward, the poorer the performance.

What works to motivate people?




Not profit.

The teachers in Lee, Massachusetts, received merit pay for higher scores, funded by the Gates Foundation.

In a letter to the Berkshire Eagle, they explained why they rejected the money.

Letter: No merit pay for Lee A.P. teachers

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

While we appreciate the article “Investing in students’ futures” (Eagle, Dec. 3), we would like to make some clarifications.

The $8,700 that the Lee Middle and High School A.P. teachers gave to the school is not from “grant pay,” but rather “merit pay,” earned as a result of high student scores on last spring’s A.P. exams. Unfortunately, the acceptance of “merit pay” was a non-negotiable requirement imposed by MMSI as part of the grant. We accepted these terms only for the additional benefit that a strong and varied A.P. program would provide for our students — “merit pay” was not an incentive to us. By refusing to accept this money and instead returning it to the school, we found a way to make it more palatable.

As a union, we strongly oppose “merit pay” on both philosophical and ethical grounds. First, the notion of “merit pay” suggests that high achieving students are more worthy of a teacher’s time and effort than average achieving students or those who struggle. Refusing to accept the “merit pay” has allowed us to put the money back into our departments to enhance the learning of all our students. We will buy much-needed items, such as supplies, textbooks, and technology, and also fund field trips and SAT preparation classes for students lacking the means to pay for them themselves.

Second, “merit pay” for certain teachers of certain students in certain classes is inequitable to professional educators. In our view, it is a way to undermine union efforts to ensure fair and equal pay for equal work, education, and experience. Before students arrive in an A.P. class in 11th or 12th grade, they have already been in school for at least 10 years. It is faulty logic to assume that the efforts of one A.P. teacher were the only cause of high scores. Earlier teachers, parents, and community members all help contribute to the success of our students.

Merit pay is an insult to our professionalism and a divisive tool designed to incite dissension among us in hopes of weakening our union, which is not only a political organization, but also a professional one, intended to protect the interests of both educators and students.

The LEA was pleased to find a way to bring high-quality, college-level curriculum to our students while holding on to non-negotiables of our own.



Jane McEvoy is A.P. Language and Composition, English Department Chair and LEA Vice President.

The letter was also signed by Robert Hungate, A.P. Biology, Science Department Chair, Mary Verdi, A.P. Literature and Composition, Thomas McCormack, A.P. Statistics, and Pamela Briggs, A.P. Calculus.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York put himself squarely in the camp of corporate reform with a proposal for merit pay based on value-added metrics.

He proposes to pay a bonus of $20,000 to teachers who are rated “highly effective” on the state’s controversial and unproven value-added evaluation program.

The fact that merit pay failed in New York City, where schools were offered a bonus for raising test scores, is of no consequence to Governor Cuomo. But, to be fair, maybe he doesn’t know that.

The fact that merit pay failed in Nashville, where teachers were offered individual bonuses of $15,000 to raise test scores is of no consequence to Governor Cuomo. But, to be fair, maybe he doesn’t know that.

The fact that merit pay has been tried for a century and has never worked anywhere is of no consequence to Governor Cuomo. But to be fair, maybe he doesn’t know that (I suggest that he read Reign of Error, chapter 12).

The good news is that Mayor Bill de Blasio disagreed with Governor Cuomo, even though he needs the Governor’s support to pass his millionaire’s tax to fund his pre-K program.

De Blasio said that he favored paying extra to teachers in work in struggling schools and to teachers in math and science, but that he doesn’t believe in merit pay.

The Murdoch-owned New York Post says that de Blasio is echoing the teachers’ union line, but in fact he is reflecting what research has proven again and again: Paying teachers to produce higher test scores does not work. And even if it did produce higher test scores, it would fail because it would mean that the scores were produced by test prep, rote learning, and incentives, while sacrificing the qualities that constitute a sound education.

Bottom line: Merit pay doesn’t work. If only there were some relationship between research and experience on one hand, and what policymakers believe on the other.

Patrick Hayes is a teacher in Charleston, South Carolina, who is leading the fight to block test-based, value-added evaluations of teachers in that district. As many posts on this blog have iterated and reiterated, most researchers think that VAM is flawed and error-ridden. (Check out Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s blog VAMboozled and Edward Haertel’s ETS lecture.)

Hayes read about the errors in the Mathematica study of VAM in D.C., and left the following comment:

“This is awful news for DC teachers. Down here in Charleston, it’s the greatest Christmas gift imaginable.

“We’re fighting VAM-based merit pay tooth and nail. Guess who our district hired to do the work?

“Here’s the only question I have: was this what Mathematica had in mind in 2010 when they said that VAM has a 36% error rate?

“Is that before or after they foul up the data?

“Tell you what, don’t ask Mathematica. I can tell you from personal experience: they REALLY don’t like talking about that study.

“I know it was before Arne Duncan handed out nearly a billion dollars in grant funding for value-added systems.

“When Mathematica published this, TIF grants were still comparatively small potatoes.

“Funny thing is, Arne’s the one who picked up the tab for that study. His name appears on page 3. Go figure.”

This post reviews a study by Roland Fryer, Jr., in the peer-reviewed Journal of Labor Economics. Fryer analyzed the results of New York City’s merit pay program and found that it made no difference on several levels.

“A randomized experiment, a gold standard in applied work of this kind, was implemented in more than 200 hundred NYC public schools. The schools decided on the specific incentive scheme, either team or individual. The stakes were relatively high – on average, a high performing school (i.e. a school that meets the target by 100%), received a transfer of $180,000, and a school that met the target by 75%, received $90,000. Not bad by all accounts!

“The target was set based on a school performance in terms of students’ achievement, improvement, and the learning environment. Yes, a fraction of schools met the target and received the transfers, but it did not improve the achievement of students, to say the least. If anything, such incentive in fact worsened the performance of students….Not only that, but the incentive program had no effect on teachers’ absenteeism, retention in school or district, nor did it affect the teachers’ perception of the learning environment in a school. Literally, the estimated 75 million dollars invested and spent brought zero return!”


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