Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Last Laugh: Merit pay isn't working in NY

All I hear politicians saying about teachers is "go to merit pay". It will bring results if you give incentives to the teachers. Well apparently not.
New York City's now defunct schoolwide performance-pay program didn't increase student learning in any statistically meaningful way, according to a new study by Harvard University economist Roland Fryer. And a large majority of the schools decided to allocate their pay bonuses to all teachers evenly, rather than using some other set of criteria to recognize specific teachers' contributions.
Other findings from this latest study: The program didn't raise test scores at all and may have slightly depressed middle school scores in the participating schools. The impact of the incentives on student attendance, behavior, course grades, regents test scores, and high school graduation were negligible, Fryer writes. And it did not seem to affect teacher behavior either, as measured by retention rates in the school or the district; absenteeism; or teacher perception of the learning environment.
Any teacher could have saved a lot of time and money on this one. Merit pay can't work because teachers realize they don't have that much affect on student behavior. They see the students an hour a day. Last time I checked there were 24 hours in a day.

But of course merit pay works there was something wrong in the study.
The paper includes a discussion of possible explanation for the lack of effects. One hypothesis Fryer lays out is that the incentive scheme, like others in the United States, may have been too ambiguous in its goals and complex in its means to effect a change in teachers' behavior.
Right too ambiguous.

Here's the kicker though, the cost of it.
One important addition: This was a costly experiment for New York City taxpayers, for several reasons. The program itself was expensive, costing on the order of about $75 million over its duration. And it will continue to be costly, because the program, put in place in 2007, was made as part of a deal with the United Federation of Teachers. The district's tradeoff was in allowing teachers who agreed to pay a minimal amount toward their pensions to retire with full benefits five years earlier.

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