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New Study Adds to Evidence Showing Merit Pay Doesn’t Perform

A new independent study by the RAND Corporation, released July 18, concludes that a merit pay program in New York City’s public schools failed to affect student achievement at any grade level. This is not a new finding.  Many studies have already shown that merit pay doesn’t increase student performance.

The RAND study analyzed test scores, interviews with school personnel, and staff surveys from a random group of New York City’s high-needs public schools that had implemented a Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program for three years.

So-called school reformers continue to make arguments similar to University of Arkansas professor Gary Ritter’s. In a piece he authored for the Hechinger Report Wednesday, he writes that “due to a variety of weaknesses in the designs of these plans, that it is still too early to close the book on the possibility that a well-designed merit pay scheme could result in enhanced teacher motivation in the short term.”

More and more studies keep coming to the same conclusion, however: Merit pay doesn’t produce results.

An earlier study of New York City’s performance pay program by the National Bureau of Economic Research reached the same conclusions as the study released this week. The author, Harvard Professor Roland G. Fryer, wrote that he finds “no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools.”

An Evaluation of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) in Chicago found “no evidence that the program raised student test scores. Student achievement growth as measured by average math and reading scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) did not differ significantly between TAP and comparable non-TAP schools.”

A Vanderbilt Univeristy study of the Project on Incentives in Teaching, involving mathematics teachers in grades 5 through 8 in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, found that “Rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores.”

With so many studies showing that merit pay doesn’t work, why do you think many people still see it as the answer to fixing struggling schools? Let us know in the comments.

If you’re looking for a great read this summer, check out Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In it he explains the reasons behind what many teachers already know, that “The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

The fun video from RSAnimate below, animates Danial Pink’s talk about the findings he shares in his book.

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