Chris Lozier with a response to Ravitch's claim that merit pay doesn't work:
Merit Pay Fails Another Test
One of the signature issues of businesspeople and conservative Republicans for the past 30 years has been merit pay. They believe in competition, and they believe that financial rewards can be used to incentivize better performance, so it seems natural for them to conclude that merit pay or performance pay would incentivize teachers to produce better results.
Few people realize that merit-pay schemes have been tried again and again since the 1920s. Belief in them waxes and wanes, but the results have never been robust.
Now we have the findings of the most thorough trial of teacher merit pay, conducted by first-rate economists at the National Center for Performance Incentives. After a three-year trial, the researchers concluded that the teachers in the treatment group did not get better results than those in the control group, who were not in line to get a bonus.
Bottom line: Merit pay made no difference. Teachers were working as hard as they knew how, whether for a bonus or not.
The very next day after the release of the Nashville study, the U.S. Department of Education handed out many millions of dollars for merit-pay programs across the country and announced its intention to spend $1.2 billion on merit pay. The enduring puzzle is why the Obama administration clings so fiercely to the GOP philosophy of incentives and sanctions as the levers for change, despite lack of evidence for their efficacy.
Here's Chris's reply:
Ravitch's Merit-Pay Comments Said to Distort Study
To the Editor:
In a blog post excerpted in a recent issue, Diane Ravitch uses a study very incompletely to funnel propaganda through your publication. In "Merit Pay Fails Another Test" (Blogs of the Week, Oct. 6, 2010), she writes more definitively and absolutely than the very authors of the National Center on Performance Incentives study that she references. She states: "Bottom line: Merit pay made no difference. Teachers were working as hard as they knew how, whether for a bonus or not." While the matter is not proven, my experience suggests that incentive structures can have important impacts on job satisfaction and retention, shaping human capital and influencing quality over time.
Sure enough, a quick search of this incentives study for "retention" leads to the following extremely important disclaimer at the bottom of Page 47: "Finally, we note that advocates of incentive pay often have in mind an entirely different goal from that tested by Project on Incentives in Teaching, or POINT. Their support rests on the view that over the long term, incentive pay will alter the makeup of the workforce for the better by affecting who enters teaching and how long they remain. POINT was not designed to test that hypothesis and has provided only limited information on retention decisions. A more carefully crafted study conducted over a much longer period of time is required to explore the relationship between compensation reform and professional quality that operates through these channels."
I want to bring this critical distinction to the attention of readers who might otherwise take the historian Diane Ravitch's commentary for fact.
Chris makes a very important point: Ravitch is correct that the evidence around merit pay is mixed in terms of how it changes behavior/results of existing teachers, but ask yourself the following question: What type of people are attracted to (and driven away by) a system that pays all employees purely by seniority and certificates, with no pay differentiation by ability???