The most popular opinion of the last few days seems to be that the primary purpose of merit pay is to re-shape the teacher labor force by attracting and retaining better teachers. The notion that performance incentives would motivate teachers to perform better in the classroom has been implicitly or explicitly derided as silly and/or unimportant.
Did I miss something? Maybe I need to do some archival research, but I could've sworn that before the release of the results there weren't many merit pay proponents making this argument. But since learning of the lack of effect on standardized test scores in the Nashville experiment, it seems to be the only one I hear.
After learning of the results, Rick Hess wrote that
The second school of thought, and the one that interests serious people, is the proposition that rethinking teacher pay can help us reshape the profession to make it more attractive to talented candidates, more adept at using specialization, more rewarding for accomplished professionals, and a better fit for the twenty-first century labor force.
and the Washington Post quotes Eric Hanushek saying
The biggest role of incentives has to do with selection of who enters and who stays in teaching - i.e., how incentives change the teaching corps through entrance and exits . . . I have always thought that the effort effects were small relative to the potential for getting different teachers. Their study has nothing to say about this more important issue.
and Tom Kane writes:
the impact of the specific incentive they tested depends on what underlies the differences in teacher effectiveness–effort vs. talent and accumulated skill. I’ve never believed that lack of teacher effort–as opposed to talent and skills–was the primary issue underlying poor student achievement gains. Rather, the primary hope for merit pay is that it will encourage talented teachers to remain in the classroom or to enter teaching.
the Obama administration's official position seems to align with that too. Here's how the same Washington Post article described their repsonse:
While this is a good study, it only looked at the narrow question of whether more pay motivates teachers to try harder," said Peter Cunningham, assistant U.S. education secretary for communications and outreach. "What we are trying to do is change the culture of teaching by giving all educators the feedback they need to get better while rewarding and incentivizing the best to teach in high-need schools, hard to staff subjects. This study doesn't address that objective.
Maybe I'm wrong and there are more people that would've agreed with these four statements a few days ago than I think, but there were certainly more than a couple people arguing that performance incentives would increase teachers' motivation, improve their classroom performance, and subsequently increase the academic performance of their students. I've had conversations with people who've directly told me that lack of motivation is a huge problem in teaching and that providing proper incentives would fix this.
Without more research, I can't tell you whether people have conveniently changed their mind about the primary purpose of performance pay or whether those who believe it should be used primarily to alter the teacher labor force are now simply stepping to the forefront while those who believed in its motivational potential are shrinking into the background. But I'd guess that it's a little of both.
On the plus side, might everyone now agree that teacher pay should be re-fashioned with the primary goal being to encourage the recruitment and retention of excellent teachers? Do I hear a consenus emerging? I guess time will tell . . .
I understand that merit pay is meant to (achem) reshape the labor force but wouldn't increasing pay across the board do the same thing? I have seen research suggesting that countries with higher salaries for new teachers are associated with higher test scores. I don't consider this strong evidence but intuitively it seems more plausible than attracting better teachers through identical average pay, a competitive pay structure, and reduced non market compensation.
Why not just restructure teacher qualifications -- the top third of the graduating class, with academic degrees of subjects that are to be taught (yes, for all grades K-12), pay them competitive market rates for the value of what they do.
then to help the teachers assess the kids at the start of the year to see where they start, assess them again at the middle of the year to see what needs to be tweaked and then evaluate both the kids and teachers at the end of the year to see what happened in that classroom during the year...
what am I missing...this requires team teaching by grade starting at kindergarten as the kids are taught by highly qualified academic specialists...seems like a no-brainer to me....
if educators don't think the kids can change classes at kindergarten (remember they already go to lunch, pe, art and music) then the teachers can rotate among the classrooms...
the main thing is to have highly trained with an academic degree and ed minor teachers in every classroom...
here is my plan...
one more comment -- I hear repeatedly from business owners who have job openings saying they wish they could find people that want to work...others are looking for skilled laborers...
but yesterday I spoke with a small business man who just wants to hire people who are willing to work, be dependable and learn the job he is willing to train them to do for good wages and benefits...
we have to end the entitlement society...this getting something one hasn't earned is a huge problem...be it grades one never earned to benefits lasting too long...
got to get people off their buts earning or making their own way, yes, even in this economy -- welfare was only intended to be SAFETY NET not a way of life...change this and I bet you see people value education...
anonymous #1: in theory, merit pay would re-shape the labor force differently than would just raising pay b/c while we'd have to believe the latter would attract more candidates, the former could conceivably attract only people with confidence in their skills and retain only teachers who've had success. I'm not sure we have much evidence that this will actually happen, but it's not an illogical theory.
anonymous #2: so, you're arguing that the primary purpose of merit pay is to . . . what?
I guess I'll go by Anon#1, (not affiliated with comments #2 or #3)
Corey, I understand the basic model underlying merit pay and allocation within the labor market. Let's set aside both the issue of retention and non-market compensation for a moment and focus only on the labor market for teachers.
We have a market based on the number of available teaching positions and an expected value of any particular job. If merit pay is instituted but the expected value of any particular job held constant then we have little reason to believe that those currently outside of the market for teachers will join. If you discount any bonus for the accuracy of knowledge among those outside the market and again for the district's ability to accurately designate the top teachers then merit pay is an extraordinarily weak incentive to those not in the current market.
Compare this to an across the board pay increase for new teachers. The expected value of income for those outside the market rises 1:1. Even if we assume higher pay only attracts a normal distribution of talent (an assumption conservatives dispute for any other profession) the total labor pool is larger and therefore administrators have more good teachers to hire from. Although the composition of the market has not changed, competition for initial hires has increased and the proportion of 'good' teachers employed rises.
Anon#1: What I'm saying is that *theoretically*, the perfect merit pay system would encourage *only* successful teachers to remain in teaching (those receiving the bonuses or whatever awards are set up under the system), while an across-the-board increase in salary would make teaching more attractive for everybody.
Now, I have yet to really see any evidence that such a system has been set up and obtained these types of results -- but, in theory, such a merit pay system *could* more effectively change the teacher labor market for less money.
I guess I am Anon2 -- I don't think I said anything about merit pay...I don't begin to know if it works or not...I want to change the whole system...
Merit pay proponents have been talking about workforce composition for a long time. Back in 2006, for example, Hanushek was criticizing merit pay research for judging "the effectiveness of merit pay based on its ability to get more effort out of the existing teachers, as opposed to its ability to enhance the selection of good teachers." http://edpro.stanford.edu/hanushek/admin/pages/files/uploads/Teacher_incentives_salaries.pdf
In 2008, Jay Greene (who is a skeptic of merit pay) made the composition argument. See page 4: http://www.centerii.org/techassist/solutionfinding/resources/TeachIncentMeritPay.pdf
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