Chicago Study Throws Cold Water on Merit Pay

A merit pay pilot program for teachers that began in Chicago schools in 2006 has had no effect on student achievement, according to a Mathematica Policy Research report released this month.

According to the study, merit pay did not improve student standardized test scores or teacher retention – two main goals of the program.

The program started with 10 participating schools, with the goal of enrolling 40 schools by 2011. One of the original participating schools has been closed due to poor performance while some other schools have opted out of the program.

Schools that participated in the program for two years scored lower on standardized testing than schools in their first year of the program, casting doubt on the theory that performance-based pay will improve student outcomes over time.

Merit pay is receiving substantial attention at the national and state levels as a way to reform the education system, and has been implemented by several states competing for federal dollars through the Race to the Top grants competition.

For the last two years, the Chicago pilot program was funded with a $27.5 million federal grant.

Critics of merit pay say that it is unsupported by research, and that evaluating an individual teacher’s performance based on student standardized testing is extremely difficult, given the many factors outside the classroom that can affect student achievement.

According to Kitty Boles, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, merit pay is an old idea – it was first tried in 18th century England – that has consistently failed to achieve desired results.

In fact, two researchers from Columbia University recently published a paper evaluating the New York City Bonus System, a similar merit-pay initiative, and found the program has been unsuccessful.

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  • nz teacher

    Those in the education “profession/industry” know a thing or two about it.
    As in investment banking, bond and futures trading … not all are equal.
    The difference is … educators do a real job working with real people on matters of real value … the chance for the children/students they work with to have a REAL chance in the REAL world.
    And they do that NOT on mega-bucks.
    Performance pay might work for investment bankers, bond and futures traders. Good on them.
    And a pox on all their houses for all the REAL workers that they have thrown out of work for what their dishonest “industry” has caused.

  • nz teacher

    “Merit pay” is a “clever speak” for “performance pay” which is a “clever speak” for “the boss (or whomsoever) decides on the basis of ‘whatever arbitrary measure I institute’ “.
    All reputable academic investigations of employee performance show that “collaboration” and “consultation” are crucial elements to good performance.
    Shame that neo-cons with money put their money and beliefs before reputable academic investigations.
    But we’re not surprised.

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  • JOHN C. BRUNGER, M.S. Ed.

    I am very close to retirement (could pull the plug any day) and work in a school district with merit pay. All my students have always passed the state mandated test through the years. Our district started performance pay 2 years ago and this is how we earn merit pay based on kids test scores. I can not fire a kid that is NOT working in class. Our alternative school was allowed to be in the running this year. Texas is on to something with merit pay. Non-creditable compensation for retirement includes such items as bonuses and incentive pay unless state law provides otherwise… Another great way for the state to save money because that 3% yearly pay raise is not added on to and muliplied to the salary of the teacher for retirement purposes here in Texas. Thank you Texas for stealing from the teacher. Just like the feds steal my social security benefits because of the off-set penalty and I lose 60 % of my social security benefits!

    The terrible thing about merit pay is that there is a limited amount of money. The schools could qualify with great test scores and not get merit pay. Merit pay is the most unfair selfish idea by those that ever came up with the idea. My hat is on to those politicians for NOT doing the right thing.

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