Merit pay is a zombie idea. It fails and fails and fails again, but legislators just want more of it.
This teacher explains why he doesn’t want it.
There are many reasons to oppose merit pay.
1. It doesn’t work. It failed just in the past few years in Nashville, where the bonus for higher scores was $15,000. It failed in New York City, it failed in Chicago.
2. It has never worked. It has been tried and failed repeatedly for nearly 100 years.
3. Modern social science says that it will never work, that when you pay people a bonus to do what they want to do you actually decrease their motivation.
A short reading list:
Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational
Edward Deci, Why We Do What We Do
Daniel Pink, Drive
The National Research Council, Incentives and Test-Based Accountability
Gary Rubinstein came across an article in which Tennessee State Commissioner Kevin Huffman boasted about the merit pay scheme he was proposing and derided the leader of the Memphis teachers’ union for expressing caution about the program. Gary decided to take a closer look at the merit pay program and concluded that the union leader’s concern was well placed. Teachers would receive $2,000 to sign up and would receive another $5,000 only if they got the required gains.
I am constantly amazed that policymakers pay no attention at all to the evidence on merit pay. It has failed again and again. The most spectacular failure was in Nashville, where teachers were offered a bonus of $15,000 to produce higher test scores. There was a control group and an experimental group. After three years, there was no significant difference in the test scores of the two groups. Merit pay also failed in New York City and in Chicago.
Merit pay is faith-based policy.
Teacher Aaron Pribble wrote a critique of high-stakes testing for “Edutopia.”
He explains how high-stakes testing warps teaching and distorts the educational process.
When teachers get rewards and punishments tied to test scores it ruins education.
He has a simple idea: Raise the standard for entry into teaching. Then give teachers the freedom to teach. Treat them as the experts they are.
Merit pay is the idea that never works and never dies. It has been tried in the schools for nearly a century and has never made a difference, other than to demoralize teachers and destroy collaboration.
This reader uses an analogy to show why merit pay always fails:
Can you imagine offering a surgeon a bonus if he does his absolute best on your surgery?
How about offering your airline pilot a bonus for landing safely?
Here is the absurd consequence of the terrible ideas that have dominated education policy in the US. for the past 20 or so years.
The governor and legislators in Michigan have stripped more than a billion dollars from the public schools even as they better test scores. Now, as they plan to cut public school budgets even more, they want to tie teachers’ salaries to test scores.
The fact that test-based incentive have failed and failed and failed does not have any bearing on the state’s policymakers. No doubt they can claim they are marching in step with Arne Duncan, who believes that test scores must be a significant part of teacher evaluation.
The formula of slash and burn is not good for children, not good for schools, and not good for the quality of education. The tests will rule every decision. I wonder how many of the legislators could pass the tests that will determine the reputations and lives of teachers.
The Chalkface blog says that we have had a steady diet of “miracles” for at least the past dozen years, starting with the “Texas miracle.”
He calls this Voodoo Education Reform.
I tend to see the ideas of the past dozen years as Zombie Education Reform.
I use the term to refer to policies that have no evidence to support them, that fail and fail again and again, but that are imposed repeatedly by powerful people, despite their failure.
Merit pay is a Zombie Reform.
Evaluating teachers by student test scores is a Zombie Reform.
Privatizing public education for fun and profit is a Zombie Reform.
Hiring inexperienced and uncertified teachers for the children with the greatest needs is a Zombie Reform.
Closing public schools and calling it “reform” is a Zombie Reform.
Putting a single letter grade on a complex institution like a school is a Zombie Reform.
Giving academic tests to pre-school children is a Zombie Reform.
We live in an age where zombies run our nation’s education policy.
I read this article “by Bill Gates” with a growing sense of incredulity.
I kept hearing echoes of many things I and others have written since Gates decided to make teacher evaluation the biggest crisis in American education. In 2008, he dropped the small schools movement and determined that teachers are our biggest problem. If we had a better way to evaluate them, schools could fire the bad ones and have only good ones.
No one did more to push the idea that teachers should be judged by the test scores of their students. No one had more influence on Race to the Top.
Now he says that test scores are not the only way to identify great teachers. They might not even be the best way.
Now he is worried that there is a growing backlash against standardized testing and he says he gets it.
He even concedes that tying pay to test scores is offensive.
Let us take him at his word. Let us take yes for an answer.
Please, Fairtest, invite him to speak at your next event.
Now if the day comes that he admits that the search for the right metric to measure teacher quality was a waste of time; and if the day comes that he realizes that many great teachers work selflessly in schools with low test scores; if he can begin to focus on the conditions that affect both teaching and learning rather than the fruitless search for the perfect evaluation system; when that day comes, we will all celebrate the painful metamorphosis of Bill Gates.
I received this email from a high school teacher in Memphis. Please read it and understand that we must organize against the destruction of public education in America. This, plus the court approval of vouchers in Indiana yesterday sends an ominous message: the radical reactionaries are determined to destroy public education. We must fight back. We must awaken parents and civic leaders.
This comes from Memphis:
“Public education in Memphis/Shelby County is on the verge of collapse.
“Gates gave $90 million to Memphis City Schools, and now he’s calling the shots: increased class sizes, no extra pay for advanced degrees, merit pay based on test scores, etc.
“The initial budget for the first year of operation for the merged district is already $145 million in the red.
“Yet last night the school board voted to continue paying $350,000 a month to a four-person team from Parthenon, a consulting group, to develop a merit pay system to stick it to teachers.
“That’s $87,500 per month per Parthenon team member. In a year, each team member will gross $1,050,000 for Parthenon. $4.2 million altogether. (Meanwhile, they’re looking to cut teacher pay and health and retirement benefits.)
“The best part: No one on the Parthenon “education” team is a classroom educator. They’re all business strategists, investors, lawyers, and—surprise, surprise—former members of the Gates Foundation. http://www.parthenon.com/Industries/Education
“Help expose these corporate reformer frauds!”
The Chicago Tribune says that the public is ready for “reform.”
What they mean by reform is that it is time to blame teachers if kids don’t learn, and punish the teachers, like, fire them.
What they mean by reform is that the editorial board wants the public schools to be put into private hands.
They are positive about merit pay even though it has never succeeded anywhere, including Chicago. The Chicago merit pay plan was funded with $27 million from the US Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund. The evaluation was funded by the Joyce Foundation, which also sponsored the Chicago Tribune’s public opinion poll.
After five years, this is what the evaluators of the Chicago merit pay plan concluded: “The final impact report found that the program did not raise student math or reading scores, but it increased teacher retention in some schools.”
The Joyce Foundation knew this. So did the Chicago Tribune. Why didn’t they so?
The public wants lots of things that have failed again and again.
Shouldn’t the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune tell the public the truth?
State commissioner of Education John White has outdone himself this time.
He puts forward one goofy plan after another, like sending children to schools that teach creationism and calling it “reform.”
But now he has an even nuttier idea: He wants to tie the funding for the state’s gifted high school students to their test scores. Really. No kidding.
It’s merit pay for kids.
What’s next: Tying funding for poor kids to their “performance?” Cutting their funding if they don’t get high enough test scores?
Currently the state has 10,000 students in gifted programs in high schools.
Under the present formula, they get 1.6 times the allotment as is available for those in general education.
The gifted students would take a cut to 1.3 times the regular students unless they hit the following goals:
Under the BESE-approved MFP plan students would qualify for the aid if:
“Eighth-graders score excellent on their Algebra I end of course test.
Ninth-graders score excellent on their geometry end-of-course test or 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement test, which can be used to qualify for college credit.
10th-graders score 3 or higher on an AP exam.
11th-graders score 3 or higher on an AP exam or 4 or higher on an International Bachelorette course, or IB.”
The savings would be small, but the message to students is that John White will cut their funding if they don’t get the scores he wants.
A few more big ideas like this and John White will turn Louisiana into an international laughing stock.
Unless he has already reached that goal.