Slate’s dangerous assertion that merit pay works

A couple years ago I received my districts bonus as one of
the top 25% of teachers, I was excited and told my friends some of whom I
believe are much better than me and I was shocked to learn they hadn’t received
it. I went home that day with some silver in my pocket but feeling like crap.
Slate Magazine recently did a piece saying merit pay can
work but it’s got to be for more than the nominal amounts that school districts
usually offer. The article sited a study that paid veteran teachers with a
history of results 20 thousand dollars over two years to go to our schools that
are struggling (i.e. doing poor on standardized tests) the most. The article
then said they did significantly better than teachers hired through the normal
From Slate:
In 10 cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, and Houston,
researchers at Mathematica identified open positions in high-poverty schools
with low test scores, where kids performed at just around the 30
th percentile in both reading and math.
To fill some of those positions, they selected from a special group of transfer
teachers, all of whom had top 20 percent track records of improving student
achievement at lower poverty schools within the districts, and had applied to
earn $20,000 to switch jobs. The rest of the open positions were filled through
the usual processes, in which principals select candidates from a regular
applicant pool.
In public
education, $20,000 is a whopping sum.
If a transfer teacher stayed in her new, tougher placement for
two years, she
d earn the
$20,000 in five installments, regardless of how well her new students
performed. In public education, $20,000 is a whopping sum, far more generous
than the typical merit pay bonus of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.
In the process, a remarkable thing happened. The transfer
teachers significantly outperformed control-group teachers in the elementary
grades, raising student achievement by 4 to 10 percentile points
a big improvement in the world of
education policy, where infinitesimal increases are often celebrated.
This is a bit misleading; you see the candidates from the
regular applicant pool were most likely first year or novice teachers. Our
inner city schools face a lot of churn and burn and turnover with their teacher
staff. So in essence the article is saying is veteran teacher do a lot better
than first year teachers. Can somebody let Teach for America know please?   
A couple years ago, a couple years after I received merit
pay my school relieved a sig grant and the entire staff, all 120 of us were
paid to an extra 5000 dollars to stay not that I think many of us had plane to
go elsewhere as they gave us the money during pre planning. Where appreciative
of the money I always wondered what would have happened had the district spent
the 850 thousand dollars to hire 12 new staff members, a mental health
counselor and a social worker because so often why a kid acts up or does poorly
in school has nothing to do with school. What would have happened had they
hired art, music, drama and home ec teachers’ positions that had been cut so school
wouldn’t have been such drudgery for so many children? What would have happened
if we hired extra teachers so classes could have been smaller so kids could
have gotten more individualized attention? I think we would have done better
and I also think we often put kids in positions where success is hard to
achieve and then we scratch our heads and wonder why they didn’t do so. 
Next I wonder about the great teachers already at the
schools where these established veterans were sent. You know the ones who were
already succeeding and not going to get the extra 20k. How do you think they
felt? Did their performances suffer and what did this for to collaboration?
The article is right in the regard we do need to get our
best teachers at our most struggling schools. We can’t hope a significant
number of first years are going to suddenly catch fire or stay long enough that
they hit their grooves.  But we don’t have
to bribe teachers to do so. Instead let’s give teachers behavioral support,
make classes small, not over load them with paper work and put in place systems
that serve the child when they are not in school. If we did those things we
might just discover we already have some of our best teachers at those
The Slate piece wasn’t terrible but I believe in parts it
was misleading, especially the part where it says merit pay does work.

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