Archives for category: Merit pay

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!”

Patrick Hayes is a third-grade teacher in Charleston, South Carolina, who is bravely battling those who are destroying public education and the teaching profession in the guise of “reform.”

South Carolina has one of the highest numbers of children living in poverty, which is a reliable predictor of poor academic performance. But reformers don’t talk about poverty. They talk about “bad” teachers, “lazy” teachers, teachers who need to be incentivized with a bonus to do their job.

In this newspaper article, Hayes thoroughly debunks these slanders against the teachers he works with daily.

He writes:

“Nobody envies Charleston County School District leaders.

“How would you recruit, retain, and motivate teachers with salaries below those of comparable districts?

“Would you start with an approach that teachers have told you they don’t like?

“Would you gamble on one with an extensive record of failure?

“The district’s plan to replace its current pay structure with merit pay is just such an approach.

“Merit pay appeals to many people. They just aren’t CCSD teachers. In a survey, only 1 percent responded favorably.

“Somehow, a system that teachers distrust is supposed to attract, retain and motivate them.

“CCSD’s plan goes further than just dangling bonuses. By 2015, it would withhold promised salary increases and make teachers hit targets to win them back.

“It would also use unreliable data to threaten their jobs.

“Working in schools for 18 years, I’ve never noticed a motivation problem.

“Most teachers come early and stay late, trundling out to their cars with armloads of work.

“Some get better results than others. All of them care deeply about how things turn out.

“That’s probably why merit pay has failed to raise student achievement each of the many times it’s been tried.”

Teachers won’t profit from merit pay, but Mathematica Policy Research will.

Even though MPR knows how flawed “value-added” rankings are, how they fluctuate from year to year, it is being paid $2.9 million to design a test-based accountability system for the teachers of Charleston.

By the way, as Hayes points out, only three states have a higher child poverty rate than South Carolina.

Forget about that. It is time to give a fat contract to find and fire those bad teachers.

On December 10, the “Center for Union Facts” published a very expensive full-page ad attacking Randi Weingarten, the AFT, and teachers’ unions, blaming them for the PISA scores.

In this post, Mercedes Schneider explores the “Center for Union Facts.” As she says, don’t believe the name. It is a corporate-funded, rightwing foundation-funded operation whose goal is to destroy unions.

A few days ago, a little-known group called the Center for Union Facts published a full-page ad in the New York Times blaming Randi Weingarten, the AFT, and teachers’ unions en bloc for the mediocre performance of the United States on PISA. The “center” says that the unions oppose merit pay, and that’s why the scores of 15-year-olds are not at the top of the world.

This ad is patently absurd.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that our scores on PISA are not declining; leave aside the fact that scores on international tests do not predict the future of the economy (we were last on the first international test in the mid1960s); leave aside that the AFT did approve some form of merit pay in contracts in Baltimore and New Haven; leave aside the fact that merit pay has been tried again and again for nearly a century and has never made a difference. Albert Shanker once said to a proponent of merit pay: “Let me get this right: Students will work harder if you offer their teachers a bonus? That makes no sense.” Leave aside the voluminous research showing that financial incentives and test-based accountability don’t make a difference, whether the bonuses are offered to students or teachers.

What matters here is that this alleged “center” has no knowledge or expertise about education, and is a “center” of union busting propaganda.

I know this for a fact. Several years ago, as I was transitioning from my role in conservative think tanks to my current role as a critic of high-stakes testing and privatization, I was invited to participate in a conference of the Philanthropy Roundtable at the elegant Rainbow Room high atop Rockefeller Center in New York City. The Philanthropy Roundtable was created by conservative and rightwing foundations as a counter to what they perceived as leftwing bias at the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation (where are they now?)

I was asked to be a judge on a panel to select the best reform idea for the next decade. I was going to be the Simon Cowell, the tough critic who scowled at bad or half-baked proposals. The room was full of foundation leaders–maybe 150 of the big donors.

One of the proposals was offered by Richard Berman of the Center for Union Facts. He said that his exciting new idea was to attack and demonize the teachers’ unions. He showed pictures of the billboards he had erected across major highways in New Jersey, blaming the unions for high costs and bad test scores. Needless to say, he was very proud of the work he had done.

The audience seemed to love his presentation.

When it came my turn to question him, I asked him these questions: can you explain why the states that are unionized have the highest scores on the federal tests? Did you know that New Jersey is one of the nation’s highest performing states? Can you name a high-performing state that is not unionized?

Berman seemed stunned, momentarily speechless. Then he said, “I am not an education researcher. I am in public relations.”

Case closed.

But as you can see, his “big idea” has gotten the funding to go national.

In recent years, the Gates Foundation has funded AstroTurf “teacher-led groups” to advocate for policies that most teachers reject. One of these groups is called Educators for Excellence.

In this post, a guest blogger for EduShyster explains why he refused to join E4E. Among other things, he could not bring himself to sign the pledge:

“which states that they “pledge to support using value-added test-score data in evaluations, higher hurdles to achieving tenure, the elimination of seniority-driven layoffs, school choice, and merit pay.”

The Gates Foundation has shelled out a lot of money to create teacher groups, led by young teachers with limited classroom experience, to push its anti-teacher agenda. A very clever strategy.


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