Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Primer on the Nashville Incentive Pay Experiment, Part 3

Part 3: Why it Matters

Previous posts:
Part 1: Background Info
Part 2: What to Look For

You may have noticed that I'm devoting a fair amount of attention to the results of the Nashville incentive pay experiment that are being released today.  Let me take a couple of minutes to explain why.

The first, and most obvious, point is that this is the first randomized field trial evaluating the effectiveness of a merit pay system.  The debates to date on whether or not we should use some form of performance pay in school have largely relied on ideology and theory.  This will give us the first concrete, empirical, and comprehensive evidence to inform our future policy decisions.  Given the importance of merit pay in the national discussion right now, it makes this one of the most important education studies of the decade.

Now, that is not to insinuate that there still won't be a ton of unanswered questions about merit pay after the results of this are digested (no one study is ever enough to close the book on such a wide-ranging topic) but, rather, that we will know significantly more about how merit pay plays out at the ground level after the release of this study.

Or, at least, we certainly hope we will -- especially given that this represents countless hours of effort by dozens of people over the past five years or so . . . and millions of dollars.  Things can always be done bigger and better, but there won't be anything bigger and better than this for quite some time (if ever), so expect the results to be bandied about by both sides of the debate for years to come.  In other words, expect this study to be the definitive study on how individual teachers respond to financial incentives well into the future.

My next post will address what, exactly, we might learn from the results.  It will likely be followed up at an attempt to live-blog the release of the results beginning around 12:30pm central time.

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