Merit pay for teachers a great idea … in theory

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Theoretically, merit pay sounds great. You take the industrial model of quality improvement — measuring output and rewarding those producers who perform best — and you simply apply it to education. It’s such a simple concept: What could go wrong?

Then again, I also love the idea of rocket ships that travel at the speed of light. Unfortunately, we haven’t quite figured out a way to make that work, and the same is true of merit pay. It’s a complicated idea with a lot of moving pieces — more complicated than rocket science, in fact, because of human variability — and unless you get them all right, you can get it all wrong.

Nonetheless, Gov. Nathan Deal — echoing a campaign by President Obama and the U.S. Department of Education — has announced that he will ask the Georgia Legislature to take what he calls a “significant step” toward implementing a statewide merit-pay program.

“We’re not going to go to a fully merit-based pay system, but I do think there is a portion of the teachers’ pay that should go to how good a teacher they are,” Deal said. “Now, getting the education community to support that is sometimes difficult.”

Yes, and that’s just the beginning of the difficulties.

For example, if you’re among the growing number who fear that we already place too much emphasis on “high stakes” standardized testing, resulting in schools that relentlessly “teach to the test,” then merit pay ought to trouble you immensely. Standardized test results are the primary means of assessing teacher proficiency, and if you want to see someone “teach to the test,” give him a $5,000 bonus if his student’s test scores rise.

It’s easier in other industries, where raw material comes in at the loading dock and a standardized, easily measurable final product comes out the other end. That does not describe a schoolhouse. Students do not come in standardized, easily measurable units and neither do classrooms or schools. The variation is immense, and statisticians warn that a test sample of 25 or 30 students — the size of the standard classroom — is much too small and random from which to draw robust, actionable conclusions.

That’s in part why the American Statistical Association — a professional group whose members believe deeply in the power of statistics — cautions against the approach. According to the ASA, research shows that teacher quality accounts for somewhere between 1 percent and 14 percent of the variation in student test scores; the rest is “attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.”

In addition to measurement issues, we face the danger of financial incentives producing behavior that runs contrary to your goal, as occurred in the test-driven Atlanta Public Schools scandal.

For example, if a low-performing student in your classroom is going to endanger your $5,000 merit-pay bonus, as a good teacher you might target that student for extra attention and support. But you might also label the child as a discipline problem or as learning disabled to get him removed from the classroom. Merit pay opens the door to all kinds of ways to game the system, by administrators as well as teachers, and none of them is any good for kids.

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483 comments
EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Take care with Bookman's opening paragraph:

“Theoretically, merit pay sounds great. You take the industrial model of quality improvement — measuring output and rewarding those producers who perform best — and you simply apply it to education. It’s such a simple concept: What could go wrong?”

“[M]easuring output and rewarding those producers who perform best” mischaracterizes “the industrial model of quality improvement” for the simple reason there is no such thing as “the industrial model of quality improvement.”

Industrial model?  Yes.  Quality improvement?  Yes.  But not “industrial model of quality improvement.”

The reality is that there are principles and methods of quality improvement that have proven workable in industry as well as in education, in government, and elsewhere.  Specifically, proven quality improvement principles and methods reject merit pay, pay for performance, management by objectives, targets without methods, SMART Goals for their own sake, and such other “evil practices.”

The fact that one’s perspective may be limited to quality improvement applied to industry should not lead one to think quality improvement principles and methods are nowhere else applicable.  An insidious source of such thinking is that quality improvement has nothing to do with ever needing quality improvement of leadership, that quality improvement is something only lowly workers – such as teachers – must do, and that if each of them would just “execute with fidelity” then the results will magically add up to quality.  Nothing could be further from the truth, yet this untruth is a common aspect of the business model applied to education with destructive consequences.

But hopefully our Georgia State Board of Education and Superintendent Richard Woods and all local Boards of Education and superintendents will consider the points Bookman makes about the unworkability of merit pay and then take the moral high-ground to reject the evil practice, so as to better position themselves to improve the quality of their leadership, continually.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Merit pay for teachers has two strong limitations:

(1)  The assessment of who teachers of 'merit' are may easily become based on the personal and the political.

(2)  Unless assessment is, likewise, made of the IQ levels of every student a given teacher teaches, the assessment of identifying merit teachers can never be a truly valid one.  And, I don't think we want to go there.

willgordon
willgordon

Just because it's difficult and risky to identify and encourage top performers doesn't mean we should abandon efforts to increase the number of good teachers and either motivate the bad ones or get rid of them.


There must be a way to reward good and exceptional teachers - and to weed out ineffective teachers. It's just too important to ignore. And rewarding performance financially isn't exactly a new and untested way of motivating employees to do a better job.


While test scores shouldn't be the only method of measuring performance, it seems crazy to ignore one of the few objective ways to measure performance. Performance can also be measured by school officers - principals, assistant principals, etc. - through in classroom visits and also by awareness of what is going on in the classroom. That should be a routine part of being an administrator. 


I'll admit I only taught one year, right out of college, and that was long ago. I don't have a handle on how schools are run now, but I do know there are ways to measure performance of any employee - no matter what the field. I also know there are teachers who perform at a high level - along with those who are inadequate. The good ones should be rewarded, the average and inadequate ones should see the advantages of improving.


The hope for recognition is a motivator. Financial rewards are one of the ways to recognize high performance.

ByteMe
ByteMe

Josh Marshall:


But all of that pales in comparison to the global picture of a country, at least a major fraction of a country, totally unhinged by ISIS and the gruesome massacre in San Bernardino, California. Certainly the first half of the debate was roiled by repeated invocations of fear, the celebration of fear, the demand that people feel and react to their fear. This was logically joined to hyperbolic and ridiculous claims about ISIS as a group that might not simply attack America or kill Americans but might actually destroy the United States or even our entire civilization.

Politically, the GOP has an interest in whipping up this kind of hysteria. But a substantial number of people in this country also clearly need this fantasy vision of a great clash between good and evil which is in its own way only slightly less apocalyptic and unhinged than the philosophy of ISIS itself. We hear these slogans again and again about World War III and the rest. So we become acclimated to them. But they are really quite nuts. We've somehow been transported back a decade, zeroed in on the small magazine and blog right wing fever swamp of 'Islamofascism' and World War III. But now that's the mainstream GOP.

ByteMe
ByteMe

Fear porn wins with the GOP base.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@ByteMe
Yeah. I'm not exactly expecting a GOP presidential candidate to mention onstage, without prompting, that the weapons used in San Bernadino were procured legally, but you'd think that maybe one of the moderators might've.

At least maybe after we'd heard for the umpteenth time from every guy up there not named "Rand" about how we just hafta be able to track every phone call and every email and every social network message.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@FIGMO2 @Visual_Cortex
I've said here, in the past, that policy-wise, he's actually the least objectionable GOP candidate. He likes single-payer, he appears to want to maintain and perhaps even beef up SS/Medicare, etc.

Were it not for his grotesque anti-Muslim "proposals" (if you can call those grunts a proposal) of late, I'd continue to assert that his is the least objectionable stance, but I really can't any more.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@FIGMO2 @Visual_Cortex
Perfect? no.

But it'd be nice if out of all the folks running on the GOP side, there were more than one guy I could even consider voting for with a clear conscience, in a general election.

(And that guy isn't Trump, BTW, in fact, that guy wasn't on stage during prime time. I actually had to news.google the name "Pataki" to see if he was still officially running; he is.)

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Visual_Cortex @FIGMO2

As did I.

I enjoyed the exchange between Santorum and Graham. An actual concession was reached on how to deal with ISISyria.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Visual_Cortex @FIGMO2

My preferred GOP candidates rarely end up on the November ballot. They're never popular with either side. Your side hates 'em, my side's suspicious of 'em.

Not sure what that says about me.


FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Donald exposed his yuuuuuuuge "D" last night.

ew

He's gonna bomb the chit out of ISIS but would rather have spent the trillions "wasted" in Iraq on our infrastructure here at home?

The guy's all over the place...not grounded in reality.  

Carly noticed and called him out on it. A ground fault circuit interrupter, she were.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@FIGMO2
 would rather have spent the trillions "wasted" in Iraq on our infrastructure here at home?

I know! crazy talk!

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Visual_Cortex @FIGMO2

My observations while working in government?

If the money's made available, which it always is, whether ours or China's, it gets spent on projects where there's little to no need.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@FIGMO2 @Visual_Cortex

yeah, yeah, government can't do anything. You go right on believing that and go on voting for the GOP version of auto-asphyxiation.
whether ours or China's
By the way, you might want to look up who actually holds most of our debt. It's not China, not even close.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

These guys have done a livestream riffing of the GOP debates--Fox shut them down in midstream but I guess CNN doesn't mind.

Anyway it's posted to YouTube, some here might want to check out some of it (it starts with about 25 minutes of pre-game show, so you will need to jump ahead a bit to see the actual debate in progress.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcZuwJbzvkE

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Visual_Cortex what a waste of time and I'll never get those minutes back.

Are you a Millennial?

This is the kind of crap I associate with a generation who poll that they want someone else to do their fighting for liberty.

They spend too much time in nonsense. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

 " a waste of time and I'll never get those minutes back."

--JohnnyReb


if that's not enough to get others to watch, I can't really imagine what would.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@CherokeeCounty @Visual_Cortex

The majority.fm site's kind of a bear to navigate when they go live with this stuff (it helps if you download their app), but it's well worth the effort.


Granted, a lot of in-jokes--if you don't know that Michael's weird voice characterization is likely either a) Right-Wing Nelson Mandela or b) Doc Carson or c) Nation-of-Islam Obama, it's going to be a little puzzling.

We didn't get much of c), alas. I think it was just during the National Anthem, in response to lyric "that our flag was still there," he quipped "Not for long, Whitey!"

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

I see someone else noticed, but I'm not exactly shocked that nobody thought to ask these jerks about the PP shootings in CO Springs.

Best not to expect GOPers to be called to account for their violent rhetoric.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Visual_Cortex try to keep up, will you?

Last night's debate was on foreign policy, not PP or gun control although you Libbies are challenged to separate the two.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@JohnnyReb @Visual_Cortex
Last night's debate was on foreign policy

Ah. So that's why nobody asked about the TPP or the climate change agreement signed by all those countries.

Also, if the focus was really on foreign policy, they sure did spend a lot of time talking about each other, didn't they?

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

After last night's GOP debate I expect most Obama and Hillary supporters are still on the fainting couch!

Yes indeed boys and girls, the truth hurts. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Visual_Cortex @JohnnyReb - no, seldom do we get to enjoy so many politicians in one place at one time blasting Obama and Hillary as they deserve.

Nector for the common sense Gods.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@JohnnyReb @Visual_Cortex
so many politicians
Doc Carson, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump. "Politicians"? They might not care for that.
And given how Bush hasn't had a job for nearly nine years, it's fair to ask if he's really a "politician" as well. I'm not sure what he even is at this point, besides guaranteed to lose.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@JohnnyReb

WTH are you even talking about? That was just standard issue Bubbleworld stuff. Nothing different than the previous debates, save for the SB shooting boogeyman.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

So in GOP Bubbleworld, an Administration that's sitting on approvals that are around 13, 15 points higher than those of the previous Administration at this point in the second term, is a "disaster."


It must be true, because that term was used six times last night.


https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/15/who-said-what-and-what-it-meant-the-fifth-gop-debate-annotated/


Also, we absolutely must use any extraordinary means to ensure that something like 14 dead in San Bernadino never, ever, ever happens again. 


26 in Sandy Hook, on the other hand? Well, that didn't even warrant mentioning last night. As I've asserted here before and seen reinforced repeatedly by the right wing responses to any efforts to regulate weapons: Those kids are just the price we have to pay for freedom, in GOP Bubbleworld.



Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

I'm just amazed that a whole political party - a third of Americans - are so afraid of a bunch of medieval rogue terrorists, that they're willing to give up any semblance of morality and common sense.

I'm not. Their base has been conditioned to be easy marks, and this party knows that they can continue feeding them a diet of nonsense and fear and that'll get them halfway to where they need to be in any political fight.

I do have faith that the American people won't let them win the second half, but still, it's pretty disgusting to behold.

Gmare
Gmare

Finally! Finally Congress got off it's collective duff!!!

Gmare
Gmare

Moonbat, Congress finally passed the bill to fund health care for the 9/11 first responders, many of whom have severe health problems. The original bill expired in September. Many of them, with Jon Stewart, have been meeting with congress critters to get this done.

gotalife
gotalife

trump wants to kill terrorists families but likes dictators to stay in power..


Very telling, we have seen this show before that caused WWII.

td1234
td1234

@gotalife Trump is talking about the BS reason for not attacking terrorist is being afraid of collateral damage is garbage. The families of these terrorist, living in the same homes, know what is going on and are not innocents. 

td1234
td1234

@CherokeeCounty War is h3ll and it is not a pretty business. You either fight a war to win it ASAP or you do not win the war. If you are afraid to take our a leader or a terrorist because it might kill their children then you are not fighting to win the war. 

td1234
td1234

@fedup52 Then they come over here and kill us. 


War is not civilized and will never be civilized. When it becomes civilized then people are less willing to stop war. 

fedup52
fedup52

@td1234 @fedup52 Agree with you on the second paragraph.  On the first part it will take a huge explanation why they come and attacked us.  Right now I am not up to it.  Time to go to bed.  Got some light work tomorrow.  May be can head off to the woods.

Cherokee51
Cherokee51

@td1234 @fedup52

I'm just amazed that a whole political party - a third of Americans - are so afraid of a bunch of medieval rogue terrorists, that they're willing to give up any semblance of morality and common sense.


ISIS will try and maybe succeed occasionally in a terrorist attack against us.  But they will not destroy our civilization.  Unless people like you continue to assist them by making them out to be some horrible threat to our way of life.