VIDEO: Merit Pay, Teacher Pay, and Value Added Measures

Value added measures sound fair, but they are not. In this video Prof. Daniel Willingham describes six problems (some conceptual, some statistical) with evaluating teachers by comparing student achievement in the fall and in the spring.

As teacher merit pay spreads, one noted voice cries, ‘It doesn’t work’

Merit pay for teachers, an idea kicked around for decades, is suddenly gaining traction.

Fervently promoted by Michelle A. Rhee when she was chancellor of the District’s public schools, the concept is picking up steam from a growing cadre of politicians who think one way to improve the country’s troubled schools is to give fat bonuses to good teachers.

The Obama administration has encouraged states to embrace merit pay, highlighting it as one step that states could take to compete for more than $4 billion in federal funds through the Race to the Top program. Indiana and Florida passed legislation that requires merit pay for teachers; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) announced a few weeks ago that he wants the same.

The most recent convert: New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I). “This is an idea whose time has come,” Bloomberg declared at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting last month. “I’m confident that if the teachers are allowed to decide the matter for themselves, they’ll support it in New York City just the way they did here in Washington, D.C.”

What if they’re all wrong?

Meet Daniel Pink, author of the 2009 bestseller “Drive.” He’s a former White House speechwriter, a student of social science, a highly sought-after lecturer and an influential voice when it comes to what motivates Americans in the workplace.

What does he think of merit pay for teachers?

“It doesn’t work.”

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This Daniel Pink TED talk from 2009 has more than 1,000,000 views on In it, Pink discusses how traditional incentives aren't effective in the modern workplace.

Research doesn’t back up key ed reforms

Via the Washington Post

There is no solid evidence supporting many of the positions on teachers and teacher evaluation taken by some school reformers today, according to a new assessment of research on the subject.

The Education Writers Association released a new brief that draws on more than 40 research studies or research syntheses, as well as interviews with scholars who work in this field.

You can read the entire brief (written by Education Week assistant editor Stephen Sawchuk), but here are the bottom-line conclusions of each section:

Q) Are teachers the most important factor affecting student achievement?

A) Research has shown that the variation in student achievement is predominantly a product of individual and family background characteristics. Of the school factors that have been isolated for study, teachers are probably the most important determinants of how students will perform on standardized tests.

Q) Are value-added estimations reliable or stable?

A) Value-added models appear to pick up some differences in teacher quality, but they can be influenced by a number of factors, such as the statistical controls selected. They may also be affected by the characteristics of schools and peers. The impact of unmeasured factors in schools, such as principals and choice of curriculum, is less clear.

Q) What are the differences in achievement between students who have effective or ineffective teachers for several years in a row?

A) Some teachers produce stronger achievement gains among their students than others do. However, estimates of an individual teacher’s effectiveness can vary from year to year, and the impact of an effective teacher seems to decrease with time. The cumulative effect on students’ learning from having a succession of strong teachers is not clear.

Q) Do teacher characteristics such as academic achievement, years of experience, and certification affect student test scores?

A) Teachers improve in effectiveness at least over their first few years on the job. Characteristics such as board certification, and content knowledge in math sometimes are linked with student achievement. Still, these factors don’t explain much of the differences in teacher effectiveness overall.

Q) Does merit pay for teachers produce better student achievement or retain more-effective teachers?

A) In the United States, merit pay exclusively focused on rewarding teachers whose students produce gains has not been shown to improve student achievement, though some international studies show positive effects. Research has been mixed on comprehensive pay models that incorporate other elements, such as professional development. Scholars are still examining whether such programs might work over time by attracting more effective teachers.

Q) Do students in unionized states do better than students in states without unions?

A) Students tend to do well in some heavily unionized states, but it isn’t possible to conclude that it is the presence or absence of unions that cause that achievement.

What Studies Say About Teacher Effectiveness

A Nationally Board Certified Teacher on Merit Pay and SB 5

This is a guest column from a Nationally Board Certified Teacher.

Ten years ago I undertook the daunting task of applying to become a Nationally Board Certified Teacher. I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it takes to be an outstanding teacher. According to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), fewer than 3,000 out of the 100,000+ teachers in Ohio have attained this status. It is the pinnacle of achievement for a teacher. As ODE states, “National Board Certification is the highest credential in the teaching profession.”

This is what merit pay is all about, right?

Originally when I started the process, the state of Ohio supported these tasks. The assessment fee to submit your materials for consideration is $2,500. I was able to have the state pick up all of the costs for applying by attending some professional development sessions ODE provided.

Today the State of Ohio provides ZERO funding for teachers wishing to prove their ultimate teaching merit. There is now a federal subsidy that is available for Ohio teachers, but it covers only half of the assessment fee. Ohio lawmakers turned their backs on teachers seeking to prove their merit.

The process I undertook was indeed rigorous. I have heard others aptly describe the National Board process as considering all the work for Master’s Degree that may take three or more years and compressing it into a semester. It was very true.

  • I had to submit lesson plans, but not simple sketches of the day’s activities. Lesson plan submissions included detailed descriptions of objectives, processes, activities, sequencing and assessment.
  • I had to submit video tapes of these plans in action. This was not a few minutes of a lesson that an administrator might wander in and observe, but full period lessons in action.
  • Student sample work was also submitted, but of all types of learners and not just cherry-picked straight-A student work.
  • I submitted reflective writings that showed that I not only delivered a lesson, but reviewed how it went and how I would make it better.
  • And finally I took a lengthy examination over the content of my teaching field that took several hours to complete.

Notice that at no time was my candidacy for the highest achievement in education based upon student results of a single two-hour standardized test. This does not prove teacher merit. I can personally attest to how socio-economic factors play greatly into student test results and why the state should NEVER consider this for teacher evaluation.

In 1997 I taught in a school were my students were struggling learners from homes that generally did not support the school through activities, PTA (there wasn’t one) or tax levies (11 failed levies in 7 years). That year I was fortunate enough to be selected as the Outstanding Educator of the Year, but my state test results were not very much different than my colleagues in the same area.

The following year I changed school districts, thanks in part to a resume that now included Teacher of the Year. My new district is a wealthier, suburban school that has not failed any levies in my time and has active parents in the schools. Essentially I taught the same content in my final year at the old school and first in the new, but the test scores of my students went up by dramatically large percentages. Did I suddenly become an excellent teacher? No. Ohio’s standardized testing simply does not assess the merits of teachers in the classroom.

Regarding Senate Bill 5 I have had a few people say to me: “I would think you would love this idea because you could make so much money being such a great teacher.” While nice to hear, I have no trust that Ohio really wants to “reward” their best teachers through a merit system. Why do I feel this way? Because Ohio lawmakers turned backs on me several years ago.

One of the incentives for attaining National Board status is that Ohio was one of several states that rewarded their NBCT’s with an annual stipend. When I applied for NBCT status, Ohio said they would give NBCT’s a $2,500 stipend each year of the 10-year certification. A few years after becoming an NBCT, Ohio reduced that amount for any new NBCT’s to $1,000. Two years ago Ohio completely de-funded the program, removing all stipends for all NBCT’s at the same time they quit subsidizing the application process.

So when I hear TV ad’s that say that Ohio wants to get rid of the bad teachers and to “reward” their good teachers, I shake my head. By their own standards, I am supposed to be one of their best teachers. So how will they reward me?

By removing experience (seniority) as being important to salary, it will encourage my school – or any other school – to disregard my degrees and certification. Ask yourself, if you were going into surgery would you prefer your doctor was experienced with this procedure or not? Will it matter to you if the doctor is excellent, but has little experience with this procedure? So why is acceptable then to ignore experience with your children’s education?

Issue 2 proponents like to argue that SB 5 does allow for negotiating salary. This is deliberately misleading, because while my union can make an offer on salary in whatever form it likes, SB 5 mandates that if the two sides disagree that the Board of Education’s final offer becomes the contract. Why would any school then take any salary negotiations seriously? Consequently, don’t look for the salaries of “best” teachers to rise. They may be the best salaries within their schools, but SB 5 allows a local Board of Education to reduce salaries by whatever they please. 10%? Yes. 25%? They could. 50%? SB 5 doesn’t stop this.

The Governor is contending that all SB 5 is really about is getting us to pay 10% of pensions and 15% of insurance costs. I have paid 10% of my pension costs for as long as I can remember. My health care contributions have gone up well over 15% from the first contract I signed in my current school district. So campaigning on these two accounts are deliberately misleading as to what the entire bill does.

But the bottom line is really this. If we want the best teachers in our classrooms, there is already a process to do that with National Board Certification. If we want premier teachers in the classroom, then we need to provide evaluations that mirror what the best system does.

Despite a resume that looks really good, I only became a Nationally Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) by less than 5 points. A colleague that I considered my mentor and an incredible teacher failed to meet this mark three times, coming as close as within two points. There are only seven National Board Certified teachers in my district and only three in my building. I was the last to attain this honor, nearly 10 year ago. My district does not reward NBCT’s with supplemental. Only 36 of the 600+ school districts in Ohio offer “merit” rewards for their NBCT’s, with only 11 (less than 2%!) offering continuing stipends. If SB 5 passes, do you really think schools will include such incentives for their best teachers? I doubt these 11 schools would keep what financial incentives they have now for NBCT’s.

So when you hear the ads that SB 5 would reward the best teachers, remember this. Ohio has already neglected their best teachers and few local districts have stepped in to provide real “rewards” for the best teachers they have now. What trust do you have that suddenly now they will live up to their word?

Jay Wise, NBCT (2002-2012)

The Debate over Teacher Merit Pay

The term “merit pay” has gained a prominent place in the debate over education reform. First it was D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee trumpeting it as a key to fixing the D.C.’s ailing public schools. Then a handful of other cities gave it a go, including Denver, New York City, and Nashville. Merit pay is a big plank of Education Secretary Arne Duncan‘s reform platform. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has just launched his own version of merit pay that focuses incentives toward principals. There’s just one problem: educators almost universally hate merit pay, and have been adamantly opposed to it from day one. Simply, teachers say merit pay won’t work.

In the last year, there’s been some pretty damning evidence proving them right; research showing that merit pay, in a variety of shapes and sizes, fails to raise student performance. In the worst of cases, such as the scandal in Atlanta, it’s contributed to flat-out cheating on the part of teachers and administrators. So, are we surprised that educators don’t respond to monetary incentives? Is that even the right conclusion to draw?

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What teachers are telling the Governor: Day 5

Previous days comments can be found here:

Today's installment covers perhaps the most common theme encountered when reading through submissions made by educators regarding the idea of merit pay. Fairness. It's a theme that runs through so many of the comments we have spent time reading. The concern is deep and wide, and the lack of transparency and apparent partisanship being exhibted by those involved in the development process is causing deep anxiety within the education professions ranks

I am concerned about pay based on performance of students. In the field of Arts, Music, and Phys. Ed., we see all the children in assigned grade levels within a school and help children establish right brain and left brain thinking which can be different ways than their classroom teacher might require. It would be difficult to measure this type of performance. Also we see some teachers who have classes that are functioning at a lower level and sometimes, they do remarkable things with those students, other times those students might wind up on an IEP so they can receive the specialized attention that they need to move forward. This is not a reflection of the teacher, but rather demonstrates how some students don't advance at the "normal expected" rates of their peers. I don't see why teachers could then be penalized for that as well...which will happen in a "performance based pay". This is why I find it hard to conceive how this concept of "performance based pay" would be fair or even recognize a teachers success. Thank you for considering this fact.
Not and idea, but questions. How will the pay of teachers be determined by merit? What are the exact parameters? How will the pay of teachers not involved in standardized testing be determined? Will this not lead to the most experienced teachers being released from duty simply because of their expense?
I don't think that there is a fair way to do performance based pay for teachers. This will turn into a system of the administration picking out their friends for pay raises and leaving everyone else at the bottom of the pay scale. Their is no way to know how a teacher is effecting a student. I have had students that I thought that I did not reach, but later, after they graduate, they tell me that I was the reason they stayed in school and did well.
Teachers would absorb better this if you would just be fair: elected officials are public employees, yet you are not including yourselves in this merit pay plan. Senators and some representatives make more now than we'll make at any point in our careers (especially those of us who teach in rural Ohio), yet you place yourselves above your own mandates. We've already proven ourselves: we had to pass student teaching, get the degree, pass the Praxis / NTE, and we work harder every year to improve our district's report cards. My school has been excellent the last five years, excellent with distinction at least the last two years. You? Your only "test" is the election process. You didn't take a test to prove that you know anything about Ohio history, current events, or fiscal responsibility, characteristics that all elected officials should possess. You don't have to prove that you've connected with your constituents; that your constituents have better lives because of your work. We've proven our merit. With all due respect, when will you prove yours?
It is hard to understand how teachers will equitably be able to have their pay tied to student acheivement. How will teachers that do not teach a tested area be evaluated? How will the "human" factor of our product be accounted for? How will teachers in low income districts be fairly evaluated? I'm all for making sure that we have high quality teachers, but using student achievement or satisfaction cannot fairly evaluate a teacher's worth and will only drive good people away from the teaching profession. I also find it interesting that the state of Ohio after all of these years has still not figured out how to fund our education system and has yet to comply with the Supreme Court decisions about state funding. And yet we want teacher's pay to be related to a system of evaluations that are already flawed.

Right now the process isn't fair, isn't open, and lacks any collaboration and cooperation. That needs to change.