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Pay for pay-for-performance program

Tucker Slosburg

Tucker Slosburg

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
(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 tslosburg@gmail.com or follow him on twitter @Tucker849.

About Tucker Slosburg


  1. “Treasure Valley home prices fall 12% in March 2011” …Core Logic. (Whoa! talk about “voting with your feet”)

    Slosburg, you’re writing for a publication that is as lame-brained as the rest of our culturally challenged state…I hope you know that, and understand the implications for your own personal career path (especially if you stay in Idaho—then again, you might hate competition in the big, bad real world & prefer to hideout here).

    In Idaho, due to the dominance of one “faith”, critical thinking skills are always suspect and eschewed. Our political system is one where wingnut ideology & cultish religion always trumps practicality & prosperity. It does absolutely no good to make rational arguments of anykind.

    That’s why the IBR has nothing to lose by having a content tilt that’s openly & radically critical of what passes for conventional wisdom in Idaho. In fact it may actually insure the IBR’s survival, otherwise with the mental pablum normally spewed, the IBR is going down with the rest of the lemmings.

  2. What if our goal as a state was to be amazing rather than the lowest common denominator?

  3. you just feel like relaxing and watching something totally silly and that where pretty much Meet The Spartans fits into your movie watching schedule.

  4. I found so many interesting things in your site especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I think I am not the only one having all the fun here! keep up the good work.Regards

  5. I actually like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you’re saying and the way in which you say it.

    Thanks once again.

  6. The decline in educational performance has always been directly porportional to the level of Federal assistance received. Since the creation of the Department of Education teacher salaries have stagnated, test scores have declined and the administrative load has increased exponetially. Reminds me of the scene from Fahrenheit 451 where the child sees the fire truck racing down the road and says “Look mommy, firemen. There’s going to be a fire.”

  7. Thansk for posting this. I found it pretty helpful. I will be checking back soon for updates.

  8. Excellent points.

    Here’s how it works in Ideeho.

    Give lots of tax breaks over decades to various private business interests so they’ll set up shop here.

    Result = less revenue to fund what have, historically, been governmental functions. (With respect to education, “historically” is actually the wrong word, as our state constitution requires a uniform public school system.)

    And also don’t forget to continually bad mouth government and government employees, and bad mouth the very idea that every once in a while folks might have to pay more in taxes to fund things like public education.

    And don’t forget the various bogeymen the very conservative folks who have run this state for decades point to whenever things don’t turn out well under their watch: It’s the unions, it’s the teachers, it’s the Mexicans, it’s the gays, it’s the federal government.

    And if we didn’t have any of them everything would be fine.

    It’s never, ever, ever the legislature’s fault though, even though they have had monopoly political power for about as long as most of us can remember.

    And, last, don’t overlook the never ending efforts of those on the right who positively drool over the idea of intercepting public money and diverting it to private enterprise, whether in the form of farming and ranching subsidies, school vouchers, educational services, etc., etc.

    Sorry to be so cynical, but, to see how our current Superintendent of Public Schools has been maneuvered over the last 6 or so years into supporting online education by private interests who stand to gain significantly from online education is a blow.

    So the unions get busted but the people with money, trusts, and friends in conservative circles will continue to create little think tanks to fund politicians who denigrate and undermine public service and public employees and promise to shift tax dollars to private interests.

    And they’ll ask for tax breaks, and rebates, etc., so it becomes even harder for government to do its job.

    Race to the bottom, anyone? Or can we go beyond the bottom, which is already where we’re at, generally, in education.

    It sure can’t be the fault of the party that runs this state. No, never that.