Search results for: "merit pay"

What can you say when a state decides to adopt a policy that has failed again and again and has been conclusively discredited? I call such proposals “zombie policies,” because they fail and fail but never die.

Justin Parmenter, a National Board Certified Teacher in North Carolina, writes here about a plan in his state to eliminate experienced-based pay and replace it with the obsolete practice of tying teacher pay to student test scores. The leaders in North Carolina call it ”merit pay.” It is also called value-added evaluation and test-based compensation.

Whatever it is called, it is ineffective and demoralizing to tie teacher pay to test scores. Those who teach in affluent districts will be paid more than those who teach in low-income schools or who teach students with disabilities. Presumably, the folks in North Carolina never heard of the POINT study in Nashville, Tennessee, a three-year study of whether teachers would produce higher test scores if offered a big bonus. The conclusion was that the bonus (merit pay) did not make a difference.

The final evaluation concluded:

While the general trend in middle school mathematics performance was upward over the period of the project, students of teachers ran- domly assigned to the treatment group (eligible for bonuses) did not outperform students whose teachers were assigned to the control group (not eligible for bonuses). The brightest spot was a positive effect of incentives detected in fifth grade during the second and third years of the experi- ment. This finding, which is robust to a variety of alternative estimation methods, is nonetheless of limited policy significance, for this effect does not appear to persist after students leave fifth grade. Students whose fifth grade teacher was in the treatment group performed no better by the end of sixth grade than did sixth graders whose teacher the year before was in the control group.

Have the North Carolina policymakers heard about the Gates-funded program to evaluate and pay teachers based on test scores and peer evaluations, which was tried in seven sites, including Hillsborough County, Florida, Memphis, Pittsburgh, and four charter chains? The program cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and it was evaluated by the RAND Corporation and AIR. The cost of the program was shared between Gates and the local districts.

The evaluation report of the Gates program was released in 2018. It concluded that the program did not improve student achievement, did not raise graduation rates or dropout rates, and did not change the quality of teachers. In some sites, teacher turnover increased. The neediest students did not get the best teachers because teachers angled to get students who would produce higher test scores. The program planners expected that as many as 20% of the site’s teachers would be fired but only 1% were.

Furthermore, in 2017, a federal judge in Houston threw out precisely the same evaluation system that North Carolina plans to use because teachers were judged by a “secret algorithm” and had “no meaningful way” to ensure that their scores were correctly calculated. The judge wrote: “The [teacher’s] score might be erroneously calculated for any number of reasons, ranging from data-entry mistakes to glitches in the computer code itself. Algorithms are human creations, and subject to error like any other human endeavor.”

Parmenter writes:

A draft proposal coming before the State Board of Education next week (April 6) would transition all North Carolina teachers to a system of “merit pay” as soon as 2023.

The proposal represents the culmination of the work of the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, which was directed by state legislators to make recommendations on licensure reform.

The proposed change would make North Carolina the first state in the country to stop paying teachers on an experience-based scale that, at least in theory, rewards long-term commitment to a career in education and recognizes the importance of veteran educators (if adequately funded by the state–but that’s a topic for another post).

Instead, compensation would be based largely on teacher effectiveness as determined by EVAAS, a computer algorithm developed by the SAS corporation which analyzes standardized test scores. Teachers who do not have EVAAS scores would receive salaries based on principal observations, observations by colleagues, and student surveys.

This plan is problematic in a number of ways. It would increase “teaching to the test” by offering a handful of larger salaries to those educators whose students do well on tests. Competition over a limited number of larger salaries would lead to teachers working in silos rather than collaborating and sharing best practices as cohesive teams. Teachers of subjects with no standardized tests are raising concerns that observations and student surveys are highly subjective, and basing salaries on them would be unfair.

Dr. Tom Tomberlin, who serves as the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Director of Educator Recruitment and Support, has justified moving away from an experience-based pay scale by claiming that teacher effectiveness plateaus after the first few years in the classroom.

It’s an argument which shows a major disconnect between DPI and those of us who actually work in schools and experience first hand how important veteran teachers are to overall school operations.

Veteran teachers often work as mentors, run athletic departments, coach sports and deliver professional development for peers.

They have long-standing relationships with school families and community members that position them to be excellent advocates for the needs of their schools.

None of that value is reflected in a veteran teacher’s EVAAS score.

Brenda Berg, CEO of pro-business education reform organization Best NC, has been a vocal proponent of scrapping the experience-based pay scale. Berg, who serves on the compensation subcommittee that helped develop the plan, said this week that it’s clear our current system isn’t working and it’s time to be “bold” about change even if it’s “scary.”

I’d like to note that anyone who claims educator pushback to this plan is centered in fear of change is completely out of touch with what it’s like to be a professional educator. We are the most flexible and resilient people on the planet, and the last two years have illustrated that fact like never before. We also know what it means to be treated fairly.

It’s true that North Carolina is facing a major pipeline crisis, with enrollment in UNC education programs down drastically over the past several years. It’s true that if we aren’t bold about change we will soon have nobody left who’s willing to work in our schools.

But we also need to be bold about acknowledging the reason for this crisis. It isn’t because the licensure process is too cumbersome. It isn’t because veteran teachers are ineffective and making too much money. It isn’t because our teachers lack accountability.

The reason North Carolina’s schools are suffering from a lack of qualified educators is because for the last 12 years our legislature’s policies have made it deeply unappealing to be a teacher in this state. Those policies include cutting master’s pay and longevity pay, taking away teacher assistants, eliminating retiree health benefits and many, many others.

The solution to North Carolina’s teacher pipeline crisis isn’t a system of merit pay which devalues long term commitment to public schools and ties salaries to standardized tests and subjective measures.

The solution to the problem is comprehensive policy change that makes a teaching career in North Carolina an attractive proposition. That’s the kind of change that will allow us to put an excellent teacher in every classroom.

This proposal ain’t it.

You can share feedback on the proposal with Dr. Thomas Tomberlin here:

State Board of Education members will hear Dr. Tomberlin’s presentation at the April 6 board meeting. Their email addresses are:

Jersey Jazzman continues to write about the ignominious failure of the highly hyped merit pay fairy in Newark. He takes this development as a sign that all other districts should pay attention. In this post, he writes about those who were bewitched by the promise of merit pay:

One of those who went gaga for merit pay was Kate Walsh of the reformy National Council for Teacher Quality. She said that the now-dead Newark Plan was “a model to which other districts should aspire.”

Jersey Jazzman says haha. Sure.

Merit pay…was little more than a broken promise to the teachers of Newark right from the start. A survey of Newark teachers in the first year found a large majority did not see the compensation system as “reasonable, fair, and appropriate.” (p. 24) It’s not a surprise, therefore, that this past month both the teachers union in Newark, the NTU, and the district’s administration decided that the program was not worth continuing.

But some reformy folks believe in merit pay the same way some children believe in fairies: they don’t want to acknowledge the evidence that shows, even in the most generous reading, that the benefits of merit pay are very small and likely are not indicative of true increases in student learning. Like Peter Pan, these true believers hope against hope that fairies can be brought back to life simply by clapping harder….

In the first year of the contract, Newark had about 3,200 teachers. How many qualified for the highest bonus, $12,500? Only eleven. Is Walsh really trying to make the case this small disbursal made a significant difference in teacher quality in Newark?

Jersey Jazzman has posted an obituary for the Merit Pay Fairy. He says it died in Newark, when teachers negotiated a new contract, deep-sixing a Merit Payplan that they endorsed in 2012.

JJ demonstrates with facts and evidence that merit pay failed.

He begins:

The Merit Pay Fairy lives in the dreams of right-wing think tanks and labor economists, who are absolutely convinced that our current teacher pay system — based on seniority and educational attainment — is keeping teachers from achieving their fullest potential. It matters little that even the most generous readings of the research find practically small effects* of switching to pay-for-performance systems, or that merit pay in other professions is quite rare (especially when it is based on the performance of others; teacher merit pay is, in many contexts, based on student, and not teacher, performance).

Merit pay advocates also rarely acknowledge that adult developmental theory suggests that rewards later in life, such as higher pay, fulfill a need for older workers, or that messing with pay distributions has the potential to screw up the pool of potential teacher candidates, or that shifting pay from the bottom of the teacher “quality” distribution to the top — and, really, that’s what merit pay does — still leaves policymakers with the problem of deciding which students get which teachers.

Issues like these, however, are at the core of any merit pay policy. Sure, pay-for-performance sounds great; it comports nicely with key concepts in economic theory. But when it comes time to implement it in an actual, real-world situation, you’ve got to confront a whole host of realities that theory doesn’t address.

Of course, it failed! As I explained in my 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, merit pay has been tried again and again for almost a century, and it has always failed.

I would like to believe that it has died, that—as Dorothy said about the Wicked Witch, it is “really, truly dead”—but I have my doubts.

Every time it has failed, someone rediscovers it and thinks that this time it will work, unlike every other time.

I remember AFT President Albert Shanker saying at a meeting in the early 1990s that merit pay was ridiculous. The way he put it was, “Let me get this straight: if you offer to pay teachers more, students will work harder? That makes no sense.”


One of the reasons for the Denver teachers’ strike is opposition to ProComp, the city’s merit pay plan.

i researched merit pay for teachers, stretching back to the 1920s. It always failed.

But it never dies. A zombie idea.

Andrea Gabor explains here why Merit Pay and bonuses fail in both business and education. 

She begins:

“Fourteen years ago, Denver public schools embarked on what was hailed as “the most ambitious teacher compensation plan ever attempted.” It was thoughtfully planned, following a years-long pilot program. It won approval from teachers, businesses, local philanthropies and voters.

“Yet, somewhat prophetically, a 2005 study of the pilot program on which the Denver incentive-compensation model was based declared that it “demonstrates why, even with thoughtful pilot leadership and broad support, a strict pay for performance system — where performance is defined as student achievement — is an inappropriate model for education.””


We will have more commentary on the Denver teacherss’ strike. Here, Fred Klonsky reminds us of the much-ballyhooed, but ultimately failed merit pay called ProComp, that substituted merit pay for adequate salaries. 

Don’t pay attention to Democratic Senator Michael Bennett, who claims to favor the teachers but was superintendent of the Denver public schools who launched corporate reform and lost many millions in tricky financial deals while he was in charge. He was anti-union when he was superintendent and is a big supporter of VAM.


Phil Berger, leader of the Tea Party-dominated State Senate in North Carolina, thinks that anyone who opposes merit pay must be North Korean, but high school teacher Stuart Egan explains here why he is wrong. 

He doesn’t need a carrot or a stick to do his best in the classroom.

He doesn’t want to compete with his colleagues.

Students take the tests, not teachers.

He is not the only one who taught them.

The state had a bonus pay plan twenty years ago, and it didn’t work.

There is more, and I would add: Merit pay, bonus pay, and pay-for-performanc3 plans have been tried for 100 years. They have never worked. Teachers are doing the best they know how. Offering them money doesn’t make them work harder. If you want them to be better teachers, devise plans for them to work with mentors or to return to graduate courses. Read my chapter on merit pay in “Reign of Error.”

Nothing fails like failure. Again and again. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results?

Andy Goldstein, a superstar teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida, recently addressed the school board and urged them not to impose a merit pay plan mandated by the legislature. The Florida legislature is dedicated to the belief that schools should be run like a business and should focus on competition, incentives, and punishments. It never passes up a chance to pass laws that foster bad practices and that promote privatization.


In the most careful study of merit pay, researchers at Vanderbilt University recorded the results of a three-year experiment in which one group of fifth-grade teachers was offered a bonus of $15,000 to raise test scores while the other group was offered nothing. The bonus had no effect. (See here and here.)



Here is Andy Goldstein’s statement to the  PBC board:




From Palm Beach County, FL:


The Failure of Merit Pay – why it will fail our students most in need – a school board talk by Andy Goldstein. April 20, 2016.




Good evening. My name is Andy Goldstein. I’m a teacher at Omni Middle School and the proud parent of an 8-year-old daughter who attends second grade at one of our public elementary schools.


I wish to talk about the proposed salary agreement for teachers.


This proposed salary agreement, if approved by our teachers, will be the first year that so-called merit pay will be put into effect in Palm Beach County as mandated by Senate Bill 736.


It divides those teachers who will earn a raise into categories of “effective” and “highly effective.” The highly effective category pays teachers 25 percent more.


I’m looking at this merit pay plan through the lense of our District’s 5-Year Strategic Plan, which our School Board approved.


Our District’s Mission Statement states that:


The School District of Palm Beach County is committed to providing a world-class education with excellence and equity to empower each student to reach his or her highest potential with the most effective staff to foster the knowledge, skills, and ethics required for responsible citizenship and productive careers.




This proposed pay plan actively works against this mission, and vital elements of our Strategic Plan in the following ways.


• Instead of promoting a high performance culture in which teachers are respected and allowed to collaborate to help our students, it promotes divisiveness, bitterness and competition between teachers. Merit pay historically has not been supported by teachers because the pay has been based on subjective and arbitrary systems of evaluation, and teachers know there is no fair way for it to be done.


• If merit pay is a good idea, then why is it a highly kept secret in each school which teachers are found to be highly effective? Don’t we want to share best practices?


• It promotes those teachers who have a certain set of students that respond to a certain growth pattern needed for a narrow set of test scores – called VAM—the Value Added Model of teacher evaluation.


• In our District’s 90-Day Entry Plan findings, you ask the big questions: Is it good for children? Is it research based?


• Merit pay is not good for children. It punishes those teachers working with the most challenging populations, the very populations you state you most want to lift up.


• Merit pay based on test scores is not research based. In fact, research shows the opposite. It shows no affect in student outcomes because basically, the teachers studied were doing the best they knew how, no matter what population of students they were teaching. The American Statistical Association cautions that VAM scores, while they may be useful in noting large trends in big systems, are not effective when they are used in high-stakes decision making related to individuals.


• Our District’s strategic plan cites the need for a high performance culture. Yet merit pay goes against this. It’s an extrinsic form of reward, making use of carrots and sticks, as if our teachers were pet monkeys. W. Edwards Deming, the management consultant who turned Japanese auto makers into world class manufacturers, said that the intrinsic motivation –the love of the work itself—is what motivates people to do a good job. He said it’s important to pay people well, develop their capacities for excellence and let them do their job.


• Merit pay works against this. It will make the District actively work against having all teachers be highly effective, since our School District is not going to want to pay the top salary for all its employees. We already see this at work in Florida’s Lake County School District.


As education historian Diane Ravitch states: Merit pay has over 100 years of research and has never been found to be effective.


As teachers, we have been branded with a Scarlet Letter, called VAM, a projection of the collective sins of our society for our grotesque inequity.


I will not, as a teacher, vote to approve merit pay, which will widen this inequity for our most underserved students most in need, and I ask the District to fix this botched idea and work at having it reversed by our state legislature.


Thank you.



Tennessee was one of the first states to win Race to the Top funding, but most districts have not been willing to offer bonuses for higher test scores, as the authors of RTTT hoped. In fact, the number of districts doing so is declining.

Four years after receiving permission to tie teacher pay to their performance, some school districts are moving away from paying teachers based on their evaluations.

“Four districts changed their teacher pay plans in the first year after legislators passed a 2010 law to allow districts to tie salaries to teacher evaluations. The law was part of Tennessee’s successful effort to win federal education funding through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program.
“That number shot up to 57 districts — out of 142 statewide — in 2014 but fell this year to 54, state officials told lawmakers in Nashville on Wednesday.
“Officials did not say which districts had opted out, or why the pace of districts adopting performance-pay plans had slowed.
“But the stagnation could signal that superintendents and school boards are hesitant about putting too much stock in the state’s teacher evaluation system, which was among the first in the nation to use standardized test scores….
“Merit pay is just one of several options available to districts to differentiate pay under a rule that the State Board of Education revised in 2013. The most common option in Tennessee is paying teachers more to teach at high-needs schools, or in subjects where there is a dearth of qualified teachers.
“Officials at the Board and the Department of Education view differentiated pay as a means to attract and retain effective teachers, whom they say do not always have experience or advanced degrees.

“But many educators say teacher pay just needs to be raised in general.”

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.

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.