Slate’s dangerous assertion that merit pay works
A couple years ago I received my districts bonus as one of the top 25% of teachers, I was excited and told my friends some of whom I believe are much better than me and I was shocked to learn they hadn’t received it. I went home that day with some silver in my pocket but feeling like crap.
Slate Magazine recently did a piece saying merit pay can work but it’s got to be for more than the nominal amounts that school districts usually offer. The article sited a study that paid veteran teachers with a history of results 20 thousand dollars over two years to go to our schools that are struggling (i.e. doing poor on standardized tests) the most. The article then said they did significantly better than teachers hired through the normal process.
In 10 cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, and Houston, researchers at Mathematica identified open positions in high-poverty schools with low test scores, where kids performed at just around the 30th percentile in both reading and math. To fill some of those positions, they selected from a special group of transfer teachers, all of whom had top 20 percent track records of improving student achievement at lower poverty schools within the districts, and had applied to earn $20,000 to switch jobs. The rest of the open positions were filled through the usual processes, in which principals select candidates from a regular applicant pool.
In public education, $20,000 is a whopping sum.
If a transfer teacher stayed in her new, tougher placement for two years, she’d earn the $20,000 in five installments, regardless of how well her new students performed. In public education, $20,000 is a whopping sum, far more generous than the typical merit pay bonus of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.
In the process, a remarkable thing happened. The transfer teachers significantly outperformed control-group teachers in the elementary grades, raising student achievement by 4 to 10 percentile points—a big improvement in the world of education policy, where infinitesimal increases are often celebrated.
This is a bit misleading; you see the candidates from the regular applicant pool were most likely first year or novice teachers. Our inner city schools face a lot of churn and burn and turnover with their teacher staff. So in essence the article is saying is veteran teacher do a lot better than first year teachers. Can somebody let Teach for America know please?
A couple years ago, a couple years after I received merit pay my school relieved a sig grant and the entire staff, all 120 of us were paid to an extra 5000 dollars to stay not that I think many of us had plane to go elsewhere as they gave us the money during pre planning. Where appreciative of the money I always wondered what would have happened had the district spent the 850 thousand dollars to hire 12 new staff members, a mental health counselor and a social worker because so often why a kid acts up or does poorly in school has nothing to do with school. What would have happened had they hired art, music, drama and home ec teachers’ positions that had been cut so school wouldn’t have been such drudgery for so many children? What would have happened if we hired extra teachers so classes could have been smaller so kids could have gotten more individualized attention? I think we would have done better and I also think we often put kids in positions where success is hard to achieve and then we scratch our heads and wonder why they didn’t do so.
Next I wonder about the great teachers already at the schools where these established veterans were sent. You know the ones who were already succeeding and not going to get the extra 20k. How do you think they felt? Did their performances suffer and what did this for to collaboration?
The article is right in the regard we do need to get our best teachers at our most struggling schools. We can’t hope a significant number of first years are going to suddenly catch fire or stay long enough that they hit their grooves. But we don’t have to bribe teachers to do so. Instead let’s give teachers behavioral support, make classes small, not over load them with paper work and put in place systems that serve the child when they are not in school. If we did those things we might just discover we already have some of our best teachers at those schools.
The Slate piece wasn’t terrible but I believe in parts it was misleading, especially the part where it says merit pay does work.