Earlier this week, the RAND Corporation released the results of a study that found merit pay had no effect on increasing student achievement or teacher motivation.
Teacher union supporters are gleefully promoting this study as proof that merit pay does not work.
Before the RAND study enters the information bloodstream and is accepted as conventional wisdom, Education Action Group would like to point out two serious concerns we have with the study:
First, buried three paragraphs from the bottom of RAND’s press release announcing the results, is this little stink bomb:
“Researchers also found that a majority of the schools disseminated the bonuses equally among staff, despite program guidelines granting school committees the flexibility to distribute the bonus shares as they deemed fit.”
In the summary, the study’s authors elaborate:
“About 31 percent of schools reported using individual performance as at least one of the factors for determining awards. The remaining schools either did not differentiate or reported using only factors related to time or job title but not individual performance.”
The authors go on to note the 31 percent of schools that actually recognized individual performance “generally remained cautious about deviating from egalitarian awards and slated 74 percent of staff, on average, for the modal award amount.”
This approach to “merit pay” seems to be the equivalent of a t-ball game in which everybody gets a hit and scores a run. If nearly every teacher is receiving “merit pay,” then it ceases to be actual merit pay, and instead becomes a kind of generic bonus that won’t motivate anybody.
This philosophy has been the unions’ compromise: they’ll relent to a merit-pay bonus system, but only on a socialist-style, building-wide level. Individuals shouldn’t reap the rewards of their excellence; instead, the below-average teacher down the hall gets to enjoy it, too. This throws the study’s findings into serious question and causes one to wonder if the unions invited such a compromise knowing it would fail.
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