Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In the United States, Merit Pay Plans for Teachers are Few and Far Between

This from EducationNext:
A new report finds that merit pay plans for teachers have been implemented in no more than 500 school districts out of some 14,000 districts nationwide, only 3.5 percent of the total. According to the study, even in those districts that have adopted an aspect of merit pay as part of their teacher compensation practices, these merit pay plans are not as rigorous as they tend to be in the private sector.

The number of school districts identified as having some form of merit pay is based upon information provided by the National Center on Performance Incentives (NCPI), which is located at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and funded by a 5-year, $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The Center systematically gathers data from school districts on their use of performance evaluations for compensation purposes. The authors identified districts listed on the NCPI website that reported having performance pay programs, and divided the number of such districts by the total number of districts in the United States. Using this methodology, the researchers estimated that only 3.5% of districts report having merit pay plans.

In the study, to be published in the Spring 2011 issue of Education Next and available here, authors Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene examined the key characteristics of performance pay plans currently in place in school districts, in light of increased attention given to merit pay in national debate and in the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top (RttT) competitive grant program.

The authors found that even in districts that were identified by NCPI as having merit pay plans, “most were so weak that they represented no meaningful change from traditional compensation systems,” which typically are based on the number of years on the job and academic credentials.

Podcast: Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson discuss why merit pay experiments in the U.S. tend not to last very long or work very well.

Around the States from Education Next:
  • The U. S. Department of Education asked states to include proposals for implementing teacher merit pay—pay based on classroom performance—in their 2010 applications for Race to the Top (RttT) monies, and many applicants promised action on this front.
  • In Washington, D.C., former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee negotiated a strikingly original merit-pay plan, despite strong union opposition.
  • Last year, the Florida legislature enacted one of the more stringent proposals any state has ever attempted—only to have the bill vetoed by Governor Charlie Crist as a way of jump-starting his ultimately doomed bid to become Florida’s first independent U.S. senator.
  • In Cincinnati and Philadelphia...merit pay policies were blocked just before they were about to be implemented.
  • Denver’s Professional Compensation for Teachers (ProComp) plan, widely heralded as the leading national example of performance pay, awards more money for earning another degree than for demonstrated performance in the classroom. ...it exempts teachers hired before January 1, 2006...
  • In Houston, merit was defined so broadly that it included an overwhelming majority of the teachers.
  • In Florida, Iowa, and Texas, the legislatures have encouraged local districts to enact performance pay plans.
  • Only a handful of Florida districts participate in merit pay, for example, even though state funds cover the cost of the initiative.
  • High-quality research on this topic within the United States is sparse and results are mixed... Vanderbilt released a study recently on a well-designed randomized trial of a merit pay experiment in Nashville. The program involved bonuses of up to $15,000, which would presumably be large enough to affect individual incentives. Yet virtually no effect was seen on test scores (outside of 5th-grade math, an effect that disappeared for those same children the next year). That said, the Nashville study did not examine long-term effects on the composition of the teacher workforce.
  • The Bloomberg administration in New York City made headlines in late 2007 by announcing a pilot merit-pay initiative, the School-Wide Performance Bonus Program. The New York City Department of Education randomly assigned eligible schools to treatment or control groups, which has enabled scholars to conduct rigorous evaluations. Early results with respect to student achievement are not promising overall, although the program appears to have had a positive impact in schools with fewer teachers (see “Does Whole-School Performance Pay Improve Student Learning?research). The researchers theorize that the group benefit feature of the merit pay program made it unlikely that it would have an impact on teacher behavior in any but the smallest schools.
  • The international evidence on performance pay is more encouraging, including a recent worldwide look that indicates that students learn more in countries with performance pay plans, all other known factors held constant. (Merit Pay International)
  • Governor Mitt Romney proposed merit pay in Massachusetts back in 2005–06, as part of an education budget that included tens of millions in new spending. That proposal went down to defeat; as the Lowell Sun reported, “the Massachusetts Teachers Association [MTA] and United Teachers of Lowell opposed the idea.
  • Philadelphia tried to institute a pilot merit-pay program in 2000, but later ditched the initiative, “calling it too expensive, too difficult to administer, and a failure at giving teachers useful feedback” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • In 2006, Philadelphia received a $20.5 million grant from the U.S. government to develop a merit pay program...but the deal [with the union] fell apart [when a budget deficit appeared].
  • [Cincinnati's 2002] merit-pay plan...was overwhelmingly voted down by teachers (1892 to 73), even though it did not base bonuses on student test scores.
  • Alabama's... “Race to the Top” application originally proposed merit pay and a “new salary schedule that would give more money to math, science and special-education teachers,” but that portion of the application was deleted [when the union opposed it].
  • A Little Rock, Arkansas, performance-pay program lasted only three years and was not renewed by the local school board, despite evidence of positive effects on student achievement in math, reading, and language.
  • The Alaska School Performance Incentive Program was canceled after three years.
  • North Carolina suspended incentive awards to high-performing schools in 2008–09 due to budget problems.
  • Iowa’s statewide Career Ladder and Pay-for-Performance grant program was passed in 2007, but only 3 Iowa districts, out of 360, bothered to apply.
  • Only 20 percent of Texas districts opted into the District Awards for Teacher Excellence program in 2009–10.
  • A 2010 report from the Arizona Auditor General [said] out of 222 districts receiving [special] funding, the auditor could identify only 29 “with strong performance pay plans that did a good job of linking teacher performance pay to student achievement.
Hat Tip to Mikey...for the question.

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