While other states have implemented merit pay programs, they’ve done so in significantly different ways than Idaho. To begin, the Denver Public School applied for and received $22.67 million over five years from the United States Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) to help implement their pay-for-performance structure. Denver’s taxpayers followed up by passing a mill levy.
Superintendent Luna’s plan, which made it out of committee yesterday, calls for no new funding, just a rearrangement of state funds at the cost of about 770 teachers and the mandate of online classrooms because, as a friend observed “One of the biggest appeals of giving your kids laptops instead of teachers is that the laptops can’t unionize.”
Then there’s Texas, which has three different merit programs funded through state and federal funding appropriations. Florida’s legislature approved $14.7 million in appropriation to the Florida Education Finance Program specifically for the Special Teachers Are Rewarded Fund. Finally, Minnesota’s Q-Comp program received its funding from the state legislature.
The large pay-for-performance experiments in other states actually appropriated money for the program, and in some instances the taxpayers added more.
Idaho has never received TIF money from the Department of Education, nor does it have the cash to really try this experiment. Unlike other states, I don’t see its citizens voting on a tax levy or the legislature willing spend more, even if it might end up putting the students first.
In all fairness, these programs in other states implemented their programs when states were flush with cash: Denver in 2004, Minnesota in 2005, Texas in 2006, and Florida in March of 2007. States willing to pony up the money to try an experiment because no one foresaw Bear Sterns and Lehman collapsing anytime soon and housing was on the up and up.
More importantly, however, other states viewed merit pay as an experiment and put up the capital to test the waters. Idaho is claiming innovation when, in fact, this is a cost-saving measure.
We must treat the pay for performance initiatives as an experiment and not the new model because – empirically speaking – we don’t have enough evidence that merit pay actually incentivizes teachers better than the single salary schedule.
The National Center on Performance Incentives (NCPI) initial report from their Project on Incentives and
Teaching (POINT) study Teacher Pay for Performance, a three year voluntary study of pay for performance in Nashville, yielded some unexpected results. Chief among them: students, whose teachers who were eligible for bonuses, did not outperform students from teachers in the control group. In other words, pay for performance made no significant impact on student achievement.
Still a review of pay-for-performance studies from the NCPI found in 2006 “that while the empirical literature is not sufficiently robust to prescribe how systems should be designed – for example, optimal size of bonuses, mix of individual versus group incentives – it does make a persuasive case for further experiments by districts and states, combined with rigorous, independent evaluations.”
The above mentioned report demonstrated positive results from merit pay studies, but a large chunk of studies were from schools outside the United States including Kenya and India – not exactly apples to apples.
I implore the Legislature and the Department of Education to seek funding from TIF and to work with research scholars to implement and design an experimental program for Idaho before jumping headlong into a pay structure that will not likely improve a teacher’s effectiveness, since most scholars, districts and legislatures still can’t define or measure what makes an effective teacher.
Many researchers note that beyond two years of classroom experience, there is no measurable difference between certified, non-certified, or Teach For America teachers, making it even more difficult to discern the characteristics of an effective teacher. Being from a selective school or a less selective school also offers no significant difference.
Eric Hausheck recently published a working paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research titled, “The Economic Value of High Teacher Quality.” He observes the great difficulty of defining an effective teacher, stating that “existing evidence indicates that using regulatory approaches to obtaining ‘good teacher’ is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. The analysis of teacher characteristics gives us little reason to believe that we know enough about consistent characteristics or backgrounds of good teachers to set appropriate training and hiring standards … credentials, degrees, experience, and even teacher test scores are not consistently correlated with teaching skill.”
Moreover, even if we could discern the characteristics of a good teacher, we are finding, as mentioned above, that merit pay does not necessarily correlate to increased student achievement.
Realistically, removing tenure and replacing it with yearly contracts probably does more to motivate teachers than merit pay will accomplish because as the research notes, the single salary schedule and tenure also fail to increase teacher effectiveness.
A small literature has emerged suggesting that evaluations from principles correlate in part with teacher effectiveness. While still only one component of evaluating myriad performance factors, it does provide enough evidence to consider it as one or many metrics.
The answer for Idaho is not unfunded merit pay, nor is it computers. Idaho’s solution rests within a culture that must be willing to put up the money in order to fund the education we want. For so a state so focused on getting what you pay for, we seem unwilling to pay for a good education. Money isn’t always the answer to solving educational policy, but right now we’re bleeding our system dry.
You can reach Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @Tucker849.