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Is What's Good for CEOs Good for Teachers?


Dear Diane,

Let's explore, one by one, the separate elements of the federal education agenda, Diane. Are they based on reason and evidence or ignorance and irrationality? (I could have asked myself the same thing about our differences regarding the trade-offs and risks involved in a national curriculum.)

Merit pay is high on the list of the new business-oriented reformers and naturally difficult for unions to swallow. For unions, the big issues are above all aimed at providing employees with a fair system that won't place them at the mercy of their bosses when it comes to the basics of the job. It's obviously of less concern to people entering the field for a short period. (Ditto for retirement, seniority, maternity leave, etc.—all of which are safeguards of concern, mostly, for those in for a lifetime career.)

Merit pay involves a set of related issues of concern to me. I speak to this as a former teacher, trade unionist, parent activist, and principal. On most of these we agree, Diane, even though they have never been directly connected, as they have for me, to "self-interest."

In each of these roles, I was glad that teachers' pay benefits and seniority rights were not at stake in the disagreements we might have. I could always see how dangerous it might be if powerful parents, principals, community members, or union "bosses" were in a position to annually decide how much my own child's teacher was worth paying. Oddly enough—am I right, Diane?—most of the reforms being threatened preceded unionization of schools and exist in states in which there are no labor-management contracts. They came into existence to protect teachers from the political pressures that affected their jobs and their profession. They mirror the protections of most public employment. Union power helped to make these safeguards and benefits more secure, but their history—as you have documented, Diane—has other roots.

I'm reinforced in my attachment to these by my own personal experience and that of two of my teaching offspring! Two out of two have at some point in their teaching lives been fired, and one was blackballed. And, in both cases it was related to out-of-class behaviors: remarks made at public meetings and union activity.

But my critique of merit pay rests also on other prejudices of mine. First of all, I think schools need to be highly collegial settings and any system of financial (or other) rewards creates a setting that makes this harder, not easier to achieve. And, believe me, it's hard enough as it is. That's one reason that in NYC, the United Federation of Teachers agreed to an experiment only if the staff had the right to decide on how to spread the resulting bonus money.

Secondly, I believe that schools work best when we can help young people see that the highest goal of learning is not some external reward, but the enormous satisfaction of learning, the "power of their ideas" (the title of my first book), backed by knowledge. They come to us largely untainted by a system of rewards for the most complex learning they will encounter—the knowledge and reasoning that leads them to language competence, an enormous vocabulary even under the worst of circumstances, the names and faces of thousands of objects and people, the "rules" of the game for any number of ordinary situations. They can "read" people's moods and make sensible predictions based on their theories, as they can with hundreds upon hundreds of other theories that apply to their daily lives. Learning is unstoppable—the trick is how to turn it to some "subject matter" that they don't encounter naturally, or which they don't uncover in its fuller complexity naturally. The aims of school—whatever they may be—depend on our keeping that drive alive, nourishing it, and deliberately doing as little as possible to undermine it. Ditto for teaching.

Thirdly, there is simply NO evidence on its behalf in public or private employment, and most previous attempts at this have been abandoned for that reason. The "evidence" falls on the other side. In fact, there is evidence of a lot of danger. It corrupts. Whatever is used to decide who "merits more" will—as most high-stakes indicators do—undermine the indicator(s) chosen: Campbell's law.

No better example of this has hit the headlines lately than what is known as the "C.E.O. compensation" problem. David Owen has written a startling and chock-full-of-lessons essay in the Oct. 12 New Yorker, "The Pay Problem." I'll be quoting from it in future weeks, so I hope our blogees get a copy of it. Have you read it, Diane?

To those reading us, I hope you will help me think about which of the above arguments are best or worst, and why you disagree—if you do.


P.S. Beware old-timers. I've just realized that the term "performance" assessment now refers to the paper-and-pencil test. As in a driver's test—who would imagine calling the paper-and-pencil test a performance test??? We're back to Alice in Wonderland where words can mean whatever we choose.


Deb, a fine progression of topics!

From last to first, from the bottom up seems the way I want to attack these. And, really from the bottom, here in rural Appalachia, far from bank CEO's.

Two federal forces have directly affected the economy here. One is Barney Frank giving way too many mortgages to people who simply cannot hope to pay them. This--filtered through resulting CDO's and CDS's--is what caused The Crash.

The second, more subtle and not understood by hardly anyone, is why people couldn't get mortgages on their own, without Barney's "help". To answer this, walk with me to the break room of any company. See that 4'x3' red minimum wage poster? For too long that poster told every person who looked the base value of unskilled labor. A ridiculous $4.75. So pervasive is the psychological power of that poster that almost no small employer knew that that that $4.75 number probably didn't even apply to them--Ohio's wage was more like $2.75! The power of that poster biased down everyone's view of what a proper wage should be. If Fred the soon-to-retire professional writes a business plan, what is his projected cost of labor? $4.75, no thought given.

Yet the economy has been growing steadily (up to 6%) for twenty-five years! The unskilled workers saw little of that growth. Where did all that extra money go? Well, certainly to the middle class, who funded all the Starbucks, Olive Gardens, Abercrombies, XM Radios, Amazon, Perrier, we've watched grow since 1984. Yet also, you guessed it, some went to the pay packages of executives.

So now, instead of learning from its mistakes on mortgages and the minimum wage, government is going to mess in the marketplace even more. Best of luck!

Deb, Moving up your list, paying teachers based on some formula of testing: BAH! A horrible idea.

Yet you have left we the people with no alternative. We all go to work. We all know that some people--for whatever reason--drop the ball at work. We know that organizations may change, and need to change people to move forward. We know that a flexible pay package is the best way to deal with these issues. Yet you--the status quo, step-pay loving "union" side--stand in the way of those flexible pay packages.

What alternative do we have? We slap on a stupid pay-for-test approach and hope it drives you to your senses about step pay.

Up the list! Almost all workers now know that a non-unionized workplace is far more collegial than a unionized one.

Recently there was a strike at a local school here. One of my partners in town here worked at that school. Normally, she is as calm and friendly a person as can be - yet the strike turned things ugly! In a short time, a bus driver nearly hit a teacher with the bus.

That's the extreme of course. More common are the petty grievances that plague everyday life at work. The bus driver who uses seniority to make everyone else's life harder. The postal clerk who just needs to move on, but won't. The DMV person who gets to things at their own pace, your time be damed.

Most people will not work in a long-unionized environment if they don't have to.

There's a book review over at the WSJ. How Labor Is Liberated:
Managers should be like football 'blocking backs,' serving their workers, helping them to get a job done.

Collective contracts assure that management is focused on the loudest complainer, not on serving the rest of the staff.


An excellent article - The folly of Merit pay removes any doubts



In support of your caution with merit pay, a Brookings paper that came out today assembled studies on the effects of reforms on student acheivement showed that merit pay had at best only a moderate effect. The only studies that showed dramatically higher effects on student learning were curricular reform. Note, also, that state standards had zero effect on student acheivement.

Curriculum vs. Other Policy Levers
Summary of Effect Sizes

Charter schools in general
0.00 mathematics
Oversubscribed NYC charter schools
0.09 mathematics

Reconstituting the teacher workforce
Merit pay for teachers in India
0.15 reading and mathematics
Teach for America
0.15 mathematics

Preschool programs
Abecedarian Preschool
0.45 reading
Head Start
0.24 letter naming
Head Start
0.00 vocabulary
Even Start
0.00 vocabulary

Nurse Practitioner Partnership
0.09 reading & math test scores

State standards
0.00 mathematics

Curriculum comparisons
More effective math curricula
0.30 mathematics
Most effective preschool curricula
0.48 vocabulary
Most effective dropout preventions
1.00 progressing in school
Most effective early reading programs
0.80 alphabetics

From the Brookings paper quoted by Erin:

"The lack of evidence that better content standards enhance student achievement is remarkable given the level of investment in this policy and high hopes attached to it. There is a rational argument to be made for good content standards being a precondition for other desirable reforms, but it is currently just that – an argument. "


I am wondering if you see any conflict in supporting localistic schooling and democracy in combination with nationalistic unions?

Deb, merit pay has become jargon, and in current usage it has acquired a narrower meaning than it deserves. Aren't teachers already in different pay brackets depending on their own education degrees and stepping? Perhaps someone can let me know if I am off base here with my supposition.

I'm sure each state has it different, and I wouldn't be surprised if every town did. But my general understanding is that right now teacher pay is a function of the years of service, and is higher for recipients of a master degree or some extra college credits. I've skimmed this and this other report.

The trick is to align the existing scheme with actual merit, not to years of study in what may very well be a fuzzy college ed program.

So here is what I have to say. Let's minimize the salary raise due to 'college credit' or MDs, and tie a part of the 'years on the job' increment to a standardized 'step' certification test.

For good measure, the increment could be a linear function of the candidate's score on the test. The idea of tying salary increments to exam grades is not as crazy as it sounds. The Scoala Normala Superioara Bucharest pays its students a monthly stipend function of their exam grades.

Merit pay for teachers is a highly contentious issue with little potential pay-off. Certainly, if we were looking for minor tweaks in our schools this might be something to take a look at. But minor tweaks are not what our schools need.

So what is the biggest area that we should be putting energy into: curricular and teaching reform. The Brookings report (and many, many others) strongly suggest that to sustain real improvements in student learning, we need to focus on what happens within the classroom: curricula, teaching and assessments that are directly related to what students should be learning. Not merit pay. Not charter schools. And not standards (state or feds).

Why go down a difficult road (merit pay) with little-to-no benefit in improving student learning?

Earning several degrees proves someone to be a good student (by learning the "What to deliver") and can only improve the possible ODDS that the acquired knowledge will manifest itself through improved delivery of instruction. Performing well on standardized tests evaluates understanding of theory (the "What" and the "How") but does not ensure proper implementation in real time. Even the National Boards, with the video-taping component, cannot measure the consistency of potential quality... only the existence of the capacity. (The "capable vs. consistently willing" is a discussion I sometimes have at parent/teacher conferences)

Publicly funded schools rely on budgets created via taxes levied by politicians who must win re-election from an ever-increasing number of citizens who no longer, or never did, have school-aged children. This ever- increasing divide between who pays for the cost of education and who is being served by the public schools will continue to grow. Particularly as the economy begins and continues a rebound.

The schools will not be able to afford more than "token" performance-based pay incentives. And as any educator knows... token reinforcement is a temporary and fleeting behavior modification strategy.

Pay incentives in the private sector are generally tied to the amount of extra revenue a company gains as a result of employee productivity. Some years may be more prosperous than others and the "bonuses," if you will, rise and fall with the varying profit realization. Employees who have demonstrated a greater contribution can expect a greater reward. The possibility of a higher bonus for greater success is then no longer a "token."

Since school budgets are prepared a year in advance, and are NOT directly dependent on productivity by the school personnel, any money earmarked for "merit pay" would have to be pre-determined. If the school board underestimates teacher impact on student achievement, then the additional pay would not be proportionately reflective of the meritorious contribution (that is assuming someone will have devised a true method for pinpointing each specific teacher's contributions to a single child's development).

Proponents of de-unioniziation would like us to believe that the creation of unions was completely void of any cause for the effect. Had merit pay and other private sector incentives existed all along, it would not be a topic of debate now. Society does not WANT to recognize that teachers are now heads of households, not merely spouses who voluntarily earn a 2nd income.

People who argue that public school boards need relief from the unions in order to reward teachers for merit, fail (or refuse) to acknowledge that there is no precedent such an action by the teachers would improve the relationship. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

It is not logical to argue that applying free market practices will improve the earnings potential of, and workplace environments for, those who serve in the public sector. School boards must answer to the taxpayers. The best way to do that.... squeeze out more services for fewer tax dollars. The very nature of the relationship is adversarial. The 1st Amendment allows for the creation of organizations such as labor unions. They serve as a protection from the well-connected and others who would, and do, take political and economic advantage of situations for personal, and often petty, gain.

A lack of potential tax revenue has ALWAYS been the excuse for not maintaining teacher salaries within a reasonable range of the cost of living. So.... teachers bargained for other benefits and accomodations, like tenure (job security), to make up for the lack of competitive pay. Teachers are good analysts of the situation. We decide with our hearts. If we did not feel the need for protection from school boards who act in poor faith, then the unions would fade away.

I certainly do not pay union dues in a "right to work" state because I think I am getting my money's worth at the bargaining table. When the people governing a teacher's every professional action have spent fewer years in the classroom..... combined.... than have most of the people they oversee, that million dollar legal defense account provides at least a little peace of mind against aribtrary and capricious decisions which could seal our professional fates.

Deb, Rory's fine piece here brings me round to the top item on your list: the nature of public employment.

Its true, of course, that public employees remain the most unionized sector of the workforce. In states like Ohio, that is because a powerful SEA has used dues money to force collective bargaining onto every school. But even among the Army engineer workforce, for example, they drove me of all people to join a union in order to get my approriate health insurance.

Does the character of government employment itself demand collective bargaining? I'm not convinced.

Rory, for example, admits that he doesn't belong for the negotiated pay and benies, but for the insurance. Talk to my brother, Rory, or your local independent insurance agent. You'll find a much cheaper professional liability policy with him than your dues.

"Protection" then is another mis-educated reason teachers are so enamored with the collective bargaining. For some reason, teachers continue to see themselves as super-special professionals, unlike all the other professionals of the world. All the rest of us need that type of insurance, no different from you.

Rory mentions the creation of Unions, and that was a fine thing, and many a set of workers may still need and deserve to bargain collectively at any given time and place. That's not the issue.

The issue is the slide in workplace quality that comes from entrenched defenders of static, archaic arrangements.

One thinks of the steel mills, where labor contracts honored a certain preferred position long after techology had eliminated the actual work of that position.

We have the same today in our schools. We have the Teaching Staff, the IT Staff, and the Classified Staff, with hard walls between them, when what we really need is a team of people of a spectrum of abilities working together to help kids learn.

But, as you and Rory ask, can teachers sustain a life if the Union goes away? Well, they do in many states, so they probably can in Ohio. The point has its validity, as Rory points out, the taxpayers here are fairly cheap. The answer, Rory, is that no one has to work in this district. Any teacher is free to move to a place where they pay better. (Unless, of course, they are 'merely spouses who voluntarily earn a 2nd income'). Moving isn't a pleasant choice--I face it now--but it is how the world efficiently works.


A fine list of questions, but the p.s. intrigues me. I always thought that, in a school setting, "peformance" was a measure of "knowledge," most of it "bookish." Thus, a bubble test, a multiple choice test, an essay question test -- all were perfectly fine measures of performance. I don't think we have lost our appreciation for words as much as we've lost our appreciation for the intellectual and academic aims of our schools.

Thirdly, there is simply NO evidence on its behalf in public or private employment, and most previous attempts at this have been abandoned for that reason. The "evidence" falls on the other side.

You and Ravitch really need to start reading scholarly literature before making these 100% wrong pronouncements about there being "NO evidence". From a Brookings paper by Russ Whitehurst:

There is a small but growing body of research on the effect on student academic outcomes of incentives to teachers to raise student performance. The National Mathematics Advisory Panel issued a report in 2008 that included a systematic review of research on performance pay for teachers. Across the 14 studies reviewed, all but one found some positive effects on student achievement.

Nicely done, Ed Jones.

Hi Ed and Fallon...hope this finds you both well.

Just wondering as i read your posts on "public employment" would you extend this thinking to all kinds of "public employment" or just teaching?


John Doe,

While Whitehurst's paper is indeed scholarly and clearly suggests credibility for merit pay for teachers, you failed to tell...the rest of the story.

"The strongest study methodologically was conducted in India and involved substantial teacher bonuses for raising student scores." I am a huge fan of merit pay for teachers but substantial teacher bonuses in INDIA? What happens in schools in India v schools in the US would have to be immediately called into question. While there may be a degree of congruence in the two school systems, the cultures, level of homogeneity of the two populations, the economies of the two countries, etc., etc., all would have to cast an enigmatic shadow over the significance of this one study as it relates to merit pay (for US teachers).

As well, your condescending tone toward the two hosts of this blog leaves much to be desired. A bit more civility in your posts could generate more give and take with the other participants. Diane and Deborah have a lifetime of experience to substantiate a great deal of what they advocate. Whitehurst's paper was news to all of us who follow education and education reform. It has many implications for future education policy and Obama's plans for same.


Good question, sir. In order to simplify an answer let me borrow from Franz Oppenheimer's 1908 work, "The State":

“There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. Robbery! Forcible appropriation! ... I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the "economic means“ for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.”

The question goes beyond the designation of 'government employee', for many private contractors, from General Electric to Blackwater (think death squads for the Pentagon), are net beneficiaries of government largesse. Of course, government is a major organization of the political means.

Unions are a minor organization of the political means (forced dues, forced bargaining, violation of individual right to employment etc) and almost always derive their power as subsets of a parent government. Unions, as little governments, covet exclusive extortion rights.

Governments, unions and gangs have an awful lot in common...

Granted, a union could organize to fight oppressive government power. But do current unions, leeching from either public or private entities, battle to make way for the economic means? Certainly not, and especially teacher unions. Unions have absolutely no interest in freedom except for themselves, which necessarily comes at the expense of everyone else.

You might ask, how on earth could the millions, the great majority, accept such horrible extortion? Well, just look at how Deb Meier responds to criticism. Meier, extremely knowledgeable and possessing of innumerable wonderful insights- defends unionism to the point of actually being proud that her kids are now taking part!

The paradigm is ideological-not merely greed. The government, the extortioner numero uno, and its minions, must work really hard to maintain an ideological basis of the political means. Think of what an unassailed dogmatic edifice 'democracy', a hyperstatizing form of the political means, has become. But how would you create such mythology? Public schooling, a form of the political means in itself, has almost always been created to serve those in control of the political means. How about that for synergy?

Obviously, the political means is antisocial, uncivil, unnecessary and unfounded. At some point the parasites will outnumber the hosts and all will die. The empirical complexity, figuring out who on net benefits vs. pays, may be tricky sometimes, but that is a different matter. Discrediting the political means is only the starting point.

Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave and obvious victim of the political means, once wrote, "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”


Paul --

So the best study is from India . . . so what? The point is that 14 studies do not equal "NO evidence." Disagree with or criticize the studies all you like, but to claim they don't exist is ignorant.

My tone is only borne out of frustration at seeing supposedly knowledgeable people make such ignorant statements time and time again. They seem impervious to any evidence; no matter how many times studies are pointed out, they'll turn around the next week and claim that there's "no evidence" on some point.

And a "lifetime of experience" is actually a bit dangerous: it makes people too cocky, and they end up pontificating about "research" or "evidence" even when it's obvious that they haven't read any scholarly literature at all.


Good points all. I disagree with Diane frequently and Deborah even more often. While I too find it frustrating at times I simply try to keep it civil and react from my lifetime in the classroom. It should be interesting to hear their spin on Whitehurst's findings.

And I don't disagree with the studies or claim they don't exist. I'm a fan of merit pay as I stated above and I welcome anything that reinforces the concept. As I've stated many times on this blog and over at Core Knowledge, what teacher worth a dime would shy away from the opportunity to make more money from doing a good job in their classroom?


Would you share all your great techniques and mentor other teachers if your merit pay were at risk?

What are your thoughts on school-wide bonuses? Could school-wide bonuses also count as merit pay?

Merit pay might as well be the cheese at the end of an arbitrarily constructed maze, and about as irrational as a form of human management as you can get- except for in one area: centralization of power. The technocrats do not believe that their models have nothing to do with reality and so remain oblivious to the fact that they are treating teachers like lab rats. As for the power mongers, well, all of this is just fine with them. They are going to treat people like rats anyway.

A market, with profit/loss, prices based on property, free exchange etc. cannot be mimicked.

Dan Pink gave a great TedTalk on ways to motivate people. I think the motivation for creative endeavors would be very suitable for schools. But it isn't the motivation that most business people use or are taught.



Put another and truthful way... what teacher worth a dime would put the interests of themselves ahead of the interests of their students, just to earn a few extra bucks? Would it be any other way with merit pay? Do you really believe teachers get into the education field for the money more than the students?

Really, this is why politicians and businessman are anathema to good education while the entreaties of educators go routinely ignored. And please spare me the disingenuous response that educators have had their day and now it's someone else's turn. That's naive to the point of negligence. Education has always been a political football.


I'm not sure how/why sharing my teaching strategies with colleagues would jeopardize my likelihood for merit pay. If the kids in my class performed well that's all that would matter to me. If other teachers and their students ultimately benefited that would also be great, wouldn't it?

As for school wide bonuses, I believe that's a good first step (isn't New York City already doing this?) but ultimately ALL teachers need to be objectively evaluated on their performance by some form of quantitative measure as opposed to an administrator's fly-by subjective measure.



No, teachers do not get into education for the money but some enter teaching for the apparent job security. It also becomes apparent all too often that there are some in the classroom who are slugs. Some are slugs because they simply don't put in the effort while others because they are sadly incapable of doing the job. Unfortunately they get the same money (and sometimes more) under the existing system - and that gets my attention. It's un-American and grossly unfair. That's why I'm in favor of merit pay. It's an ATTEMPT at identifying and rewarding those folks who perform "better" than the average bear. It's also a potential path away from the existing farce used to determine a teacher's value.

After teacher for 13 years across 4 states (some union, some right to work), I can state that the teachers in my building worked just as hard when there were incentivized bonuses related to student test scores. The problem is that we didn't always control those conditions. In AZ, where I spent 8 years, some school years were incredibly difficult because of large fluctuations of immigrant kids spending inconsistent amounts of time in school due to family transiency. These families were moving around due to market forces and a whole host of factors, but the educational gaps for the students grew and were incredibly difficult to address. I think merit pay has all sorts of flaws, but it is most flawed if it is not tied to a student's individual growth rather than one cohort being compared to last year's cohort of students with a particular teacher (which is the easiest and cheapest means of assessing/reporting scores).

In addition, with a merit based pay plan, are those teachers outside the testing scope left out of the pay scheme? How do you measure the Physical Education teacher's merit pay? Art? Drama? Special Ed? HS Elective courses? Vocational Ed? I think you get the idea. What of these hard working teachers? Is their work now deemed less valuable because their 'merit' isn't easily measured on a multiple choice test?

I have been part of school wide merit based pay and the district moved away from it because it was difficult to administer, favored schools that already had high achieving populations and didn't have desired effects on student achievement. There are better ways to improve instructional delivery and I can't think of a worse way to develop rapport with students than turning the daily work of their head, hearts and hands into dollar signs for teachers.

The job of teacher is difficult. At times, its as if the heavens open and miracles happen... and others, as if you are barely keeping your head above water. The job requires teachers to be everything to some of these kids... the job requires me to be more than 'disseminator' of knowledge. When you figure out how to measure the real job of teacher, in all its overwhelmingly wonderful glory, talk to me about merit. Til then, I'll be working my tail off because its the job I signed up for 13 years ago, not because someone is dangling cash in front of me.

Also, it shouldn't be forgotten that we already have merit pay. Everywhere. It's just that "merit" is defined as 1) being older, and 2) having a master's degree in education, neither of which has much of anything to do with students. (Being experienced does matter, but only for the first few years.)

So the real question is, do you really oppose "merit pay"? Or do you just oppose tinkering with the current system of merit pay that rewards meaningless credentials?

Mike asks if the above apply to all public employment. I said many things above, but in general, see nothing special about the position of teacher vs. other professionals. (Well, the object of their work is special, but not their behavioral dynamics).

For some reason, there just seems to be much confusion among teachers and advocates about how most of us work. For example, Diana remarks,

"I can't think of a worse way to develop rapport with students than turning the daily work of their head, hearts and hands into dollar signs for teachers." This seems a romantic view of the situation at best; reality is likely to be otherwise.

Lets look at how merit raises are done in real life. A company takes in say 8% profit for a year. Of that, they can retire debt, invest in new plant and equipment, expand their workforce, or reward employees. Usually its all.

So, 2-3% goes to raising employees wages. (Not far from what teachers see under contract). How is it divvied up? Well, management decided that organization X had a great year and they get 3%; but organization Y needs some incentive to maybe do a little better, so they get 2%. Within each org, the same happens with the departments; then each dept. head makes the same sort of determination with each individual.

That kind of reward isn't likely to 'turn daily work into dollar signs'. It might be a signal to work on some area.

Of course, the real effect of allowing flexible pay is not on the 90% of workers. Instead, the value comes from two situations:
1) The person who gets 0% five years in a row. Hopefully that person gets the clue that, no, this position may not be the best fit for the particular gifts God gave you.
2) The great person who works for the competitor, but can be persuaded for an extra 5-10% to make the move.

With a step pay structure, neither of these tools are available to the organization's leaders, and that make change difficult.

I guess I should have started my response to all of this with, I don't believe that schools should be run by the same values/objectives as the business world. I hope that no school I work for aspires to be a great business with a profit margin. I will cede that the compensation method for teachers lacks in creativity and flexibility, however, tying it to flawed assessment data that was NEVER meant to be used as a measure of the teacher, but of the student... is wrong-headed.

And Ed, just because I have a degree in education doesn't mean that I don't understand how market forces work. I get it, in fact I understood market forces, profit margins and the like as I worked along side my family on a dairy farm in the 80s. It wasn't pretty, but incredibly educative.

I reject that schools are supposed to act like businesses. I reject that my paycheck should be tied to the students performance on tests. I reject that I should earn my keep by way of multiple choice test. I would like an objective system of evaluation that looks at the whole picture of the teacher and makes decisions based on evidence that is meaningful. But that requires more investment in evaluation methods that aren't cheap and a much more skilled leadership corp in the front office to be rolled out in any reasonable fashion.

The fact of the matter is that according to Ed's perspective, "For some reason, there just seems to be much confusion among teachers and advocates about how most of us work." When I stood in my undergrad program and decided not to go into law school much of the decision was about not wanting to be a part of 'how most of us work". I made a conscious decision NOT to be a part of it. To think that the reason teachers oppose merit pay based on student test scores is based in ignorance is short sighted at the very least.

To believe in testing based merit pay, you have to believe in the test. I do not. Please do not equate that with my ignorance of the issues.

So Paul I guess what you're saying then is that merit pay really doesn't resolve anything educationally. It's just a matter of fairness... whatever that means in the eyes of the deciders. Some holy grail.

I'm not really sure why you continue to promote this policy while dismissing the views of most of the educators on this blog who eloquently, intelligently and fairly rebut its phony promises.

Hi All... hope this finds you well.

Diana..your post brought a smile to my face... i too choose to be a teacher and some folks think that by that choice we simply have never done anything else or can not be intellignet enough to "figure" things out.

Recently i had the chance to spend some time in a southern city in our nation. Its fun to visit new places and peek around and i get that chance every now and then.

What i noticed... was the beauty of old public spaces....grand actually. A beautiful building that once was the post office- now an art museum.
Another ....grand old public train station now a hotel!

The idea of the "public" in America has really taken a back seat to the "private" yet America has established public institutions of value through out our history... including our national parks.

Public education is a value similar in nature...yes with many issues..yet...the value and belief seems much deeper.

be well..mike

Teachers and teachers unions are easily snookered.

One can't be opposed to "merit" and "pay" should be associated with merit.

And the teachers bear the full brunt of "accountability." President Obama and Secretary Duncan mention parents, but they don't mention all the unaccountables above the school site (including themselves) who foist off the loony tunes mandates on teachers.

Teachers have been conned into the con, because it provides license to "meet the needs of individual students"--meaning "anything goes."

A teacher has to "do everything." A good deal of teacher time is spent on tasks that "anyone" could do. But most teachers are not eager to share the classroom with anyone. If there were differential responsibilities there would be a basis for differential pay.

The fact that we don't presently have any fair means of determining merit pay isn't a reflection on teachers or unions. It's a reflection on people who "run the show."

The thing is, there is no "management" counterpart in education. We have "administrators" who do nothing more than administer and shift responsibility. This was OK in the days of the one-room schoolhouse. And it's OK in colleges and universities, which are learning/teaching/research communities. But el-hi badly needs re-form.

What is the whole point of merit pay? Not to keep teachers in the profession. Many advocates of merit pay are perfectly happy to have a revolving door of teachers--provided it doesn't revolve too rapidly. In fact, some would get rid of tenure and increase the salaries.

Nor is the point to attract good teachers to good schools. Some schools have no trouble attracting highly educated, caring, energetic teachers--why? Because these same schools have intellectually and artistically lively environments and motivated students.

The point of merit pay is to attract good teachers to struggling schools and new schools--schools with grueling schedules and multiple demands on teachers, schools where teachers must do clerical, adminstrative, and security work on top of their teaching.

Some people are suited to this kind of work. But they are not necessarily all of good teachers, nor are they necessarily the best teachers. They just happen to do well under great pressure and with multiple demands. To treat them as "better" is to distort the definition of education.

Perhaps it makes sense to pay teachers more to work in struggling schools--with the understanding that higher-fuctioning schools provide their own reward. But let us not associate such pay with "merit," or confuse higher test scores with education.

Good teachers will flock to a school where their responsibility is to teach, and where there is great respect for education. They may last a few years in a school where this is not the case, and they may bring up scores a notch. But unless the school values education beyond the scores, unless the school takes the time to figure out what it is doing and why, it will keep on scrambling and scrambling. The test scores will not reveal to the school what it is there for. Nor will the pay.

Diana Senechal

I hope everyone takes a look at the science of motivation video by Ted Pink at www.ted.com that Brendan Murphy mentions above. (It is 18 minutes, but is very entertaining as well as informative.)Education of children is not an industry; human beings are not products. If we are mandated to do our work as educators based on scientific research, we need to know what the science is, what can be replicated (isn't that the essence of scientific research), and be honest about the data and the integrity of the analysis.

Diana L.,

Have never been sure what to do about Art, Music, and Phys Ed teachers as they relate to merit pay but most other teachers need to be evaluated on some form of quantitative data. And yes, transient kids are probably one of the toughest problems for teachers and schools to address. It's tough to help them if they're only in your class for a cup of coffee.

From my experience it was frustrating to see some teacher down the hall who knew she was going to evaluated on Wednesday and on Tuesday went out got her hair done, had a facial, bought a new outfit, had a manicure, and spent hours preparing for the one lesson she knew the principal was coming in to observe. THE NEXT DAY she shows up in a sweatshirt and jeans, hung over from the night before and her class lessons for the day are an abomination. She spends half the next day taking her kids out to recess. And this women gets what kind of an evaluation? Glowing - and it made me sick. THE EXISTING SYSTEM OF TEACHER EVALUATIONS IN THIS COUNTRY IS A JOKE AND IT HAS TO CHANGE. The only credible alternative offered to date is merit pay. That's why I'm in favor of it. Show me something else and I'd probably endorse it as well. Anything is better than what we have now.

You stated, "I would like an objective system of evaluation that looks at the whole picture of the teacher and makes decisions based on evidence that is meaningful." I'd like to see something like that as well Diana but I've neither seen nor heard of anything like that to date.

Diana S.,

"The point of merit pay is to attract good teachers to struggling schools." That should certainly be a major portion of the equation. But I believe with VAM's and what William Sanders has developed, merit pay could be much more ubiquitous than many believe.


You state, "I'm not really sure why you continue to promote this policy while dismissing the views of most of the educators on this blog who eloquently, intelligently and fairly rebut its phony promises." I've been dismissing the views of educators (I was one for 34 years) for quite awhile and I probably won't be stopping anytime soon. Many of their "views" are why our schools are in the condition their in today.

So what are the really biggest issues that hold schools back from being all they can be? What percent of the problem are some of the issues being bandied about here? Is there one main issue that would give us the biggest bang for the buck? That way perhaps we can "fix" the worst problems first. Kind of an education "triage" if you will.

Feel free to add to the list if your big issue isn't there:

-Teacher unions
-Merit pay
-Parental involvement
-Teacher quality
-Allowing teachers more say in designing instruction
-Societal issues
-Health care
-Student nutrition
-Privatizing the schools
-More vouchers
-Scheduling (more or less time in school)
-Require quality art, PE, science, social studies in every school
-Bringing back quality "shop" and industrial education classes in middle and high school.
-Allowing students more time to graduate from high school if they are making progress.
-What else?

Sorry, Nev. I'd say "None of the above."

In my view, the "root problem" is that those outside the el-hi enterprise are divided into two camps: the "Schools Suck Camp (SSC)" and the "Suck on Schools Camp" (SOC).

SSC folks believe that the wherewithal for "quality schools" is there but that teachers and their unions are dragging their feet for self-serving reasons. So schools have to be "reformed"

The SOC folk have "research-based" (of course) materiel and/or "knowledge" that will "help." The purveyors are unaccountable. After the sale or the "professional development." If something doesn't work, it's because of "lack of fidelity."

Some kids learn with very little instruction. Some learn despite unintended mal-instruction. Schools take credit for this placebo-instruction. The remaining instructional failures are attributed to "deficiencies" in the students, parents, and/or society.

Prevailing tests provide no feedback to ameliorate conditions. The results are ungrounded numbers on arcane statistical scales. The tests do nothing more than generate a fog that sustains and maintains the status quo.

There are exceptions of course, like D&D. But more are needed.


The scenario you describe (of the teacher who puts on a big show and then shows up with a hangover the next day) will not go away with merit pay. It'll likely get worse.

Look at how schools operate. Do they behave normally when someone comes to evaluate them? No. They treat the evaluators like kings and queens. They show off the best classes.

It is possible to put on a show with test scores as well. Those who care about getting that bonus will find ways to get those scores up--test prep, tips and tricks, cheating, you name it. And those who don't will be stigmatized or at best not recognized. It will be just like observations, only in a different form.

Once I got very upset when we had to fill out the school survey, and someone told us, "Be careful what you say, because this affects our bonus." I had nothing bad to say about my school, but I wanted to be at liberty to say what I thought. What kind of survey is it, if a bonus is attached to the results?

And the same for test scores. Those who want the bonus will find a way to get it. And it may not have anything to do with good teaching.

The only way to evaluate a teacher fairly is with wisdom, but you can't replicate wisdom at will. And a merit pay formula based on test scores is capable of no wisdom at all.

If my teachers had been evaluated on the basis of my test scores, I'd have that on my conscience today. I did well on certain tests and not so well on others. The tests had their purpose, but they did not reflect my teachers' competence. I am glad no one was judged by them.

Again, the push for merit pay seems to be a response to some of the extreme problems. But it will not solve those problems. And it will create new ones.

Diana Senechal

Diana Senechal - Also though, besides schools that "put on a show" there are the "experts" or politicians and others that "walk-through" a school and are now experts on how that school works or not, and have deep insights to into the whys and why-nots of why it works or doesn't work based on their "in-depth" 45 minute experience on-site. I've lived through meetings where we are told by "experts" that spent that much time or less how what they observed or didn't observe means we need to do this or that and stop doing that and this and things will be fine ... "if you care about your kids and what is best for them anyhow."

Paul - Look how great "merit pay" worked for the financial industry. And they've already returned to it big time because it works so well. How did they decide who got bonuses again?

Dick Shutz - agreed, and yet look at how much time is spent here hashing over things that in most cases would have a 5% impact on any real improvement in schools ... but are often discussed like they would change things fundamentally.

In addition, for those of you that keep riding the "Its the teacher unions that are the problem ... they get whatever they want." Meme - Really? So if the unions are so strong and all powerful, why have they been so ineffectual against NCLB? Why are teacher benefits being eroded away more and more each year? Why do teachers have less and less voice in what happens in their classrooms ... to the point where they are given cover for not doing well because, hey, I'm following the mandated program ... if scores aren't up, don't look at me ... I'm just doing what I'm told (especially in elementary).

Whoops - meant 5% impact at best, but usually much less.

As in a driver's test—who would imagine calling the paper-and-pencil test a performance test???

It's testament to the disdain teachers have earned for their absurdly subjective and inaccurate assessments.

As in "never mind the teacher bs, how does the student actually perform?"

I'm not kidding, by the way. That's why it's called "performance", because it's long been realized that teacher assessments are barely accurate within the school, totally inaccurate in school to school matchups.

That's why universities don't use grades to determine placement (remedial or otherwise) for incoming freshmen, but rather "performance-based" assessments--which can't be based on a teacher's bizarre notion of merit, which often (particularly in urban and majority minority schools) have nothing to do with actual ability.


If a principal only knows what's going on in his/her classrooms through formal observations, then is the problem one of "slug" teachers as you so self-righteously put it... or is it a problem of administrative incompetence?

And in attempting to get rid of such teachers, if a school doesn't want to, or isn't given the resources to spend time doing due process, a most American value (sort of like unfairness, no?), then maybe that problem doesn't really exist as you say on any substantive scale. Or maybe there are larger reasons for it that conveniently go unaddressed.

What is clear though is that many administrators/reformers and their starry-eyed apologists have other agendas, and will dismissively say or do anything to anyone to advance them - such as... promote an educationally unsound uncreditable merit pay program that, "oh by the way," just happens to bust unions. Serves some people well, just not the students.

There's this ridiculous view out there that because an idea is different than current practice then it necessarily must be better. If that's the case, why doesn't someone just propose that we draw-and-quarter all the ineffective teachers and save everybody all the trouble?


Are your complaints valid? By your choice to support unionism and government schooling you have de facto made yourself an accomplice to massive crime. The whole system is based on getting and exercising the power to force others to do your bidding and to fork over earnings.

Since motivations are really nebulous as compared to actions it should be plainly obvious that the system is Machiavellian at its core.

NCLB is thrown at you by your master, the state, because it can. Thanks to your physical and ideological support the state has become the end-all-be-all for competing interests in every endeavor imaginable. Goldman Sachs and the Pentagon are just better at it than your group. And NCLB supporters are merely gaining on you.

Either you have consciously chosen to live by this Darwinian impulse or you have been naive. You made a deal with an extorting devil. Did you not understand it? Or maybe you did not think that it could backfire?

Well, which is it?

You might want to claim ignorance but that would seem seem odd when you act like a corner hustler getting bumped by a Mexican cartel. (That would not be the best analogy either since at least the drug dealers engage in voluntary transactions. Your clients, in contrast, are compelled.)

Maybe you should just quit your complaining and take the cut you do get, Amigo.

Si se puede!

Correction of the anecdote above, regarding a school survey. My memory was wrong--it was not about a bonus, which was not at stake, but rather about the school's rating. Survey results are part of a school's "report card" in NYC. Thus a school that gives itself a high rating will get a high rating on that component of the report card.

Nev--you are right about the "walkthroughs." What the evaluators see is based on what they think should be going on, which may or may not have to do with good instruction. One of the latest crazes in NYC had to do with "learning goals"--students were supposed to know their "learning goals" for all subjects and be able to recite them to any stranger who came into the room.

Diana Senechal

MAN OH MAN ! How nice it would be were my principal to visit my classroom more than once a year to experience what we're doing.

There is likely a well-designed plan in every school district across America for evaluating teachers, for providing support to those who show promise (but may be struggling with an isolated task), for offering remediation to those who execute sub-standard lessons and classroom management, and if necessary, eradicating poor teachers from classrooms.

Then WHY, you ask, are these things not happening?

1. Over these past few decades, school districts consolidated in the North and/or populations grew drmatically in the South and Far West, where there are generally large, often county-wide districts. Principals in large schools and/or districts, spend most of their time away from their buildings, sitting in bureaucratic meetings (usually about damage control, how to make the documentation of the recent test data fit the expectations, or how to prevent crazy parents from suing over spilled milk).

2. If a princpal DOES successfully have a poor teacher removed, then WHO is going to replace him/her? (particularly if it is mid-year and was a troubled class from the beginning)

A year ago.... every state in the country had teacher SHORTAGES. Urban and suburban districts, alike, were having to "Emergency Certify" anyone who could comb his hair and claimed to have stepped foot on a college campus... sometime in his life, although he can't remember exactly when.

WHY? - Because the pay does not match the effort required and the headaches to follow. If we are all supposed to follow the data, then DO IT! Burn out and unpreparedness for the craziness that can be a school (minus the money), are the main reasons teachers leave the profession.

Supply and demand pure and simple. When the economy is strong, schools (at current salary levels) cannot compete with the free market. When the economy is weak, more work is placed on the people who joined the profession for the right reasons and low morale goes from bad to worse.

Want the greatest teachers????
... make the profession glamorous, the acquisition of advanced degrees and training free, and the compensation appealing from the start.

Every boy in my 9th grade classes dreams of being the next star of something..... for the thousands of cheering fans and the possibility of millions of $$$$.... even if he is injured and never plays a single minute. And while such dreams only become a reality for a small percentage... the perception of the image is quite different.

I am not advocating such over the top ridiculousness..... but.... this country COULD make a reasonable effort.

I am not so sure that principals are best qualified to evaluate what teachers do, either. Several of them spent as LITTLE time in front of students as possible, as they moved their way up the professional ladder toward a salary that was..... you guessed it.... worth the effort.
Here, the minimum requirement is three years... that's barely "getting your feet wet."


So I see, the more you whine the more objective your recommendations on teacher compensation become? The reality is that nobody knows how many teachers there should be and how much they should get paid. You get what you get when you forego the market and resort to politics and coercion to make a living.

And of course you might find shortages (or gluts) of teachers. Why do you think the same scenario happens in nursing? Or in doctoring? Unions and cartels (the A.M.A) have an interest in restricting supply and driving up the costs of entry. Look at the confounded licensing requirements, the lack of congruency across states, and, i.e., the artificially limited number of spots at medical schools.

Who knows, you may be right. But let's go even further and assume that teachers ought to get paid $1 million a year and work one hour a day because they suffer the most. Dreamy, huh?

Unfortunately though, relative pain is not discernable. And for all we know the suffering is due to the system, the political creature. That said though, and if you are still up to claiming omniscience, I want to ask how you would compensate the rest of society for the legal privileges you enjoy as a union member?

Paul, You're describing problems with school leadership; problems that won't be solved by adding teacher merit pay into the mix.

Perhaps if the principal's pay was directly related to improvements in student learning, he/she might actually care about what you are doing in the classroom.


Please understand... I do not fear merit pay... I wish there were some logical way to apply it with reasonable accuracy. My students show learning gains every year... I do get token bonuses when the funds are available....I wish I did not feel a need to HAVE TO belong to an almost worthless union... however....

Here are just a few reasons why I believe I do not need to compensate society any further than I do.....

1. My profession exists as long as the law (created, supported, and enforced by the people) states that children MUST attend school between the ages of 6 and 16.

The only way for a free market concept to work in education is to drop it from being mandatory. Then... let the schools attract customers like any other business has to... now.... won't THAT be a pretty picture in about 1 or 2 generations?

2. Unions (of which I think there is plenty of room for criticism) did not exist first. They HAD to be created for the protection of the worker.

3. I teach in a "right to work" state. Union is an idea in name only here, because the bottom line is that we cannot, by law, withhold our professional expertise as a bargaining tool. Therefore.... we have no leverage.

4. I compensate myself for my legal privileges as a union member. I contribute as much to my own salary (out of which come my union dues) as does anyone in my district.... property taxes.

I pay income tax on what I pay in property tax... How many people in the private sector do that?

5. Statistics show that most teachers (who originally intended to join the profession) quit within the first 5 years.

6. A super majority of those who leave another profession to join the ranks of teachers do not last 1 year.

7. I work in a profession in which the mere accusation of misconduct (whether it be "on the job", or not) by a student or parent will likely be the end of my career.... my employer DOES NOT have to provide me with due process rights in order to terminate my employment, and not just in my current place of employment... but in any future school district. And... my employer, by law, is held harmless, even I do get a court to agree that I was wrongfully terminated.

8. I work in a profession in which the expectations placed upon my professional conduct do not END at the conclusion of my workday. If I go to the local supermarket... I must still be Mr. Sponsler. And the moral standard placed upon me is much higher than that which the community places upon itself.

9. If I worked strictly to the letter of my contract, 50% of the responsibilities placed upon my shoulders would not be accomplished because there are not that many hours in a workday. I am salaried, but I certainly do not work banker's hours, to coin a phrase

Deb, methinks the rising temperature of this discussion tells us something: Like couples counseling, the increased intensity hints that we're getting close to the core of the issue.

Diana and all, lets back up. Why did we get the whole testing and merit stuff in the first place? Was it because the body politic looked around and said, 'we're bored with picking on aerospace and postal workers, lets pick on teachers'? Possibly. Yet those type of flareups rarely have traction.

We got into the testing business for two reasons, plus Diane's "What Do Our Seventeen-Year-Olds Know?"
1) 50% and lower graduation rates among urban and black youth
2) People like myself graduating 20 years of education with no exposure to the most basics of cultural literacy which define an educated person.

The second one gives us outsiders a big hint about why the urban kids are leaving, thinking school unnecessary.

For all your nuances above, if you want government mandates to go away, what do you think the teaching profession needs to do?

I wish that there were some way to move this discussion away from the extremes to somewhere closer to the middle. Despite a strong set of knee-jerk supports of unionization, I have a lot of frustration with teachers' unions and see them as somewhat separate from trade unionists. Nevertheless, I find that I can salute when the NEA suggests that evaluation should be meaningful and tied to professional development.

Education, like many other employment arenas, is not particularly adept at evaluation. At best, schools go through the motions. This isn't helped by a certain pervasive attitude of paranoia despite far more guarantees of due process and job protection than most American workers experience. Diana's school survey example was striking. In her case, the survey results would be made public, on the report card. In my district, the survey results are "public," if one knows that such a survey is administered, can locate the union website, and their software is working properly. One year I lobbied long and hard to get access to the school improvement plan at my son's school. One identified area of needed improvement (based on the teacher survey) was school cleanliness. This is certainly a non-threatening (to teachers) area to include as a part of school improvement.

Now--because I am curious, internet-adept and the kind of annoying parent that asks questions, I always check the results of the school surveys. The year following the mention of school cleanliness as an area of teacher concern in the school improvement plan the survey results showed that teachers no longer knew anything about building cleanliness. The pervasive answer to that question was "don't know." I took it as a sign of school dysfunction totally unrelated to school cleanliness.

I think the reality is that good systems of evaluation are a rare find in the employment world--although not entirely absent. Certainly consignment-based pay systems are clear and motivate sales, as well as making clear which sales people are not cutting it. And make no mistake--a good salesperson is highly skilled. They know how to match the product to the customer's need, how to close in on a decision and exactly when to ask--is this the one that you want?

I cannot imagine the existence of a meaningful evaluation system for teachers that denies any connection between teacher actions and student learning--measured in as many ways as are avaliable and meaningful. I also believe that enhanced salary and advancement should be available to teachers over time for something other than sticking it out in the classroom. We have used the Master's Degree as something of a proxy for enhanced ability, despite, what it turns out now, is only a shaky connection. We have also tended to offer advancement to teachers moving into administrative positions (to the detriment of administrative quality, to my mind).

If we could let go of some of the demonizing attached to the concepts of 1) salary that is responsive to performance; and 2) using student achievement as one indicator of teacher performance; I rather suspect that we could come up with more meaningful and helpful systems of evaluation than those currently in existence. We might even be able to identify, honor, replicate and offer enhanced respect to teachers who have advanced in their knowledge and are "getting it right."


"Perhaps if the principal's pay was directly related to improvements in student learning, he/she might actually care about what you are doing in the classroom." Now there's a capital idea.

If only more districts/states would subscribe to such an idea instead of breeding principals as PR reps for their school system, then it might also trickle down to teachers. If these folks are supposed to be the educational "leaders" of their schools you'd think student performance would have to be somewhere under their umbrella.

The technical issues involved in gauging teacher merit in terms of student achievement are very different depending on whether "the "teacher" is at the elementary or at the secondary level.

The task is easiest at the secondary level where there is departmentalization and instruction is structured in terms of courses. In a large high school with multiple sections of courses, one could in principle compare like with like." But even there students would have to be randomly assigned to classes. That doesn't happen and it isn't reasonable to do so. Moreover, "Reformers" are recommending small schools and "schools within schools. How are different departments and schools to be compared?
And in small high schools, with, say, one teacher to a department, or to several departments, how do you handle that?

There aren't now high school tests or achievement indicators by course, and it's the course patterns and sequences that are the most important.

At no level are current standardized tests sensitive to instructional differences. To mandate their use for differential teacher pay, even in part, is loony. The National Academy of Sciences puts it more kindly, but that's essentially what they've said.


At the elementary and middle school level, the technical problems loom much larger. The aspired instructional accomplishments are not accomplishable in one year by one teacher. If one were to randomly assign kids to teachers upon school entry and stick with that, say, through grade 3, there would be some comparability. But that isn't pedagogically sound and it doesn't account for mobility of either students or teachers.

"Value-added" has a nice clang association. But when the "value" is via a secret statistical formula or one that the people using it don't understand, again "loony" (or a synonym) is the only way I can think of to describe the situation.

The Obama administration is heading for a train wreck. The only question is how and when it will happen. My guess is that the "Race to the Top" will start smelling when the state applications are evaluated, but I could be wrong. There may indeed be a "Top," and we may get to it through "Reforms" of moon-shot import.

One thing I never understood: What makes supervisors in schools so very much worse judges of performance than supervisors in other walks of life?

Is it because most of them started as teachers?

Can anyone help me see your POV on this?

Paul, Your experience with bad administrators seems rather common.

My comment about principals was a bit flippant and if I thought that it would change how principals thought about their job and the teachers that report to them, it might be worth it. But do you really think that even giving merit pay to principals would substantially change how they evaluate teachers?

What seems like could be helpful to encourage continual improvement are school wide bonuses for schools that performed over and above expectations; the benefit is that situation is that it rewarded teachers and principals for working together to solve tough problems. And the bonus should be used to honor and celebrate a quality organization not punish poor performing schools.

While it would be great to be compensated for one's worth, in practice the idea of merit pay to improve schools is quite the canard. It assumes that with monetary pressure people will suddenly know how to teach well (rather silly idea). They won't

Even in the private sector there is very little real merit pay. Supervisors do have some discretion, but not really that much. Few business people really get substantial bonuses related to their performance (exceptions: executives and sales)

Deb, Keep pressing on the problems of merit pay. It really won’t help our schools.

Also, it would be great if you could share your thoughts regarding the Brookings Institute findings: Standards, charter schools, etc… do not improve student learning. The only exception was curricula.

Yes, Ed may be right that the topic of merit pay hit a nerve. In many ways it may surface our underlying assumptions regarding the motives for learning, doing a good job, solving problems, etc. Some believe that without external rewards all striving for merit, et al would die out. Some believe that the desire for "more" (and more) is just natural human behavior--as well as healthy one. I'm eclectic on this, but I am not eclectic in the belief that it is unnecessary for the kind of learning school children should be engaged in, and ought to be only one of our motivations for a flourishing democracy, and for doing good work whenever and wherever. My belief was substantiated by the experiences I had in my classrooms and in the kind of schools I helped lead for so many years.

John Doe is right: saying there is "no evidence" was foolish and inaccurate. In coaching for standardized tests I always tell kids this--the "always" and "never" responses are generally wrong.
But to claim Diane and I are not attending to scholarly journals is absurd! But perhaps there is a problem--your scholarly studies are in the WSJ, Education Next, etc and mine in TC Record, or Brookings etc, much as we do wth TV news we get our "news" from different sources. That's too bad, but perhaps inevitable. Perhaps not. I hope for the latter and count on those who disagree with me to alert me to other sources.

I suspect that while the connection between educational theories and political theories is hardly a tight match, there are good reasons for their tendency to go together. It's not only means we are arguing about, but ends--purposes. Schools prepare young people for a world they will influence--which makes them difficult institutions.

I not only think money doesn't have to be the major medium for rewarding good work, but also I don't want it to be. No doubt that influences me. No doubt it alarms some of our readers.

There are studies on other professions, who face similar problems in objectively deciding on merit, and paying accordingly. It might be easier for doctors and lawyers to count lives saved or cases won; although that's not how they are paid now. But arhitects don't even have that to fall back on. It's a messy world. Thank god.

There are other systems of evaluation that are more often followed in professions that rely on a combination of human judgements from several sources based on observations and quantitative data. And appealable.

The desire for fairness is also a healthy one.

But, it would be interesting to see if the commenters who take such different sides also agree on some things! Because I think it was one of the Dianas who wondered why reformers have fixed on the particular strategies they have--such as merit pay--that have only minimal evidence on their behalf--and generally even that evidence suggests only modest effects on test scores--and that in turn cause so much opposition from precisely those involved. A curious choice.

What could we get on the same page about, and then allow schools to try different "incentives"? Anything?


Erin - a quick thought. My worry is that when you evaluate that way you risk narrowing the curriculum to what gets tested. Like now literacy and math become the curriculum because they are the "money" topics ... they get tested (to be fair science gets tested in 3rd and 5th, but nobody seems to care how we do on those tests). So unless we are going to evaluate for science, art, social studies, PE and anything I've left off my list we are right back to at risk students receiving a bland, extremely narrow education.

I live the outcome of being at a school where the primary grades are math / literacy focused so that students are reading at grade level by 3rd grade. Whatever skills they learn begin to water down as they move into upper elementary because they have so little general knowledge of the world and their environment that even if they can "read the words" it doesn't mean much. "So the pitcher struck out 16 batters in a game. Is that good? Who cares." Last year I had a class of 6th graders that didn't know what a kangaroo was, or an orchard or a steam train ... and I could go on and on ... not a couple of kids ... no one in a class of 26 students. Makes reading more like reading lists of words than hearing a story and making connections. Something to think about.

It is extremely shortsighted and misguided to assume that reading and math alone constitute a quality education. Science, history, art, music, physical education (and significantly more) all matter greatly. It is to our children's detriment that these subjects are sorely neglected in our schools.

But schools run on process. If we insist that they only test reading and math; guess what: only reading and math will be taught. (Schools really do respond to mandates.)

So really the question is: given that there are multiple, difficult to measure subjects that are essential to quality learning, how is it possible to ensure that the time given to these subjects reflect what we truly value?

It is possible to evaluate student learning in science, history, art, music and even PE. But these has yet to be promoted by the ed-reform gurus. But if we don't emphasize the entirety of our learning goals how will our students ever receive a rich, well-rounded education?

Agreed!!! My point exactly.

Deb, you asked why we pursue 'strategies that...evidence suggests only modest effects on test scores.'

I moved a lengthy response to Diane's side.

Re merit pay, a heuristic article in this week's Teachers College Record

"What Will Keep Today’s Teachers Teaching? Looking for a Hook as a New Career Cycle Emerges"


Whodathunk of asking teachers what motivates them?

The sample was 6 1/2 teachers (one teacher was sick and didn't make the final interview) but the study could easily be replicated. And a thought experiment (N=1) indicates the findings would hold up. The operative sentence re merit pay is:

"Structuring compensation that rewards teachers for problem-solving and collaboration with colleagues (see Lagemann, 1993) as well as in-classroom success and innovation has the potential to shift the focus of motivated teachers back to their work with kids and away from jobs outside the classroom or education entirely."


As a coordinator of a successful public school performance pay model and as a former union president, I feel that I need to weigh in with of my own insights.

Performance pay as a practice has worked well for our district. We entered this realm 4 years ago with a teacher/administrator created plan. We built our system from the ground up with over 15% of the district's teachers being integral to its creation. Our plan recognizes 5 aspects of performance pay:

1. Teacher observation - must be evaluated proficient by trained teacher observers
2. Professional development - active participation in local staff development initiatives
3. Establishment of a data driven Professional Development Plan and action steps therein
4. Student growth on classroom indicators of achievement
5. High stakes year end assessments

These components of performance pay have fostered an atmosphere of collegial discussion where as we once closed our doors and did our own thing, we now have a prevailing "thow your door open" mentality to sharing and collegiality. Teachers are working in peer groups daily to solve real classroom/school problems. The efforts of our peer groups, Professional Learning Communities, help to create solutions to many of our daily struggles as teachers. We build upon our collective knowledge and strength and are rewarded both intrinsically and extrinsically.

Our system has allowed for a mentorship program to be sustained where district money had dried up. New teachers to the profession are given support I only dreamed about when first honing my craft. Rather than having another teacher showing me where the bathroom is and giving me access to a file cabinet full of 30 years of materials, now we have a system which rewards master teachers in a structured environment for sharing their wisdom and efficiencies all the while helping the newer teacher to discover their own strengths and building a solid base from which to build a successful career.

In the past 14 years of teaching, I was observed formally by my principal only during the probationary times of my career (by state law). Our performance system has created the avenue for that sorely missed feedback I hadn't received in over 10 years. Now, I have highly trained, seasoned, master teachers observing me at least 3 times every year. These peers are providing for me constructive feedback and collegial coaching as "critical friends."

Without our current performance system, which values the importance of good, best practice staff development, we would still have the "administrivia" staff development meetings of old, to now studying student data and outcomes to steer my instruction.

In an era of decreasing tax bases and/or flat state funding, teacher salaries have not kept up with any measure of COLA or CPI. I would be remiss to not mention the fact that yes, performance pay has helped to increase teacher salaries. Yes, more often than not a person enters the education profession for other reasons besides money, but they certainly did not enter the profession to take a vow of poverty (which by the way, my children once qualified as poor under the free and reduced lunch program).

Ultimately, performance pay in our system has affected the reason most of us entered this wonderful career, kids. Student performance indicators are trending in a positive line, as well. Not just with high stakes testing, but in other measurable ways too.

As I think about the discussion on this board, I constantly go back to the notion..."If you always do what you've always done, then you'll always get what you've always gotten."

Mike Nordean,

Of course you don't mention that your school system and union has contributed significantly to the erosion of the tax base. What with your combined, school and union, financial extractions from the local populace and mega-support for the Democratic party- it is time to own up. Whether you are conscious of it or not, the plethora of Clinton/Bush/Obama lunatic social agendas (read mortgage interventions etc) has really amounted to the destruction of the economy and funneling of wealth to connected elites (inflation, bailouts, one-sided deregulations) at the expense of everyone not in the gang.

I think this macro issue overshadows the discussion on merit pay, and makes it look trivial even.

Mike, are so saying that 15% of the teachers are participating?

Is the program described in more detail anywhere?

What is the largest and smallest merit award in a given year?

What's the largest and smallest salary of teachers participating?

Is there a merit pay plan for administrators?

Is the "mentor" program separate from the merit pay program?

Have the programs changed any over the 4 years?

Sounds really interesting!

Mike N., thanks for the insight!

Dick, I think he is saying that 15% participated in the design of the program, not the implementation.

It looks like this paper analyzes Mike's performance pay system, albeit from the perspective of its acceptability to teachers, not its effectiveness for students: Risk Aversion and Support for Merit Pay: Theory and Evidence from Minnesota's Q Comp Program


You write very well and can articulate your points, and those of the CATO Institute, to a degree that suggests that public schools served you well. Just out of curiosity, how are the pot holes on your street repaired?

I was just about to jump in and suggest that Fallon's comments to Mike were totally uncalled for, but I see that Mike has handled it very well all by himself.

I enjoyed your post, Mike, because I think that you have identified the middle ground that I have looked for. Development of the plan by teachers and administrators together (and with union support, I am thinking) makes much more possible.


Your dismissiveness is only that. If you have some substance or actual refutation by all means let's hear it.


I will reply to your past comment here. You write:


You write very well and can articulate your points, and those of the CATO Institute, to a degree that suggests that public schools served you well. Just out of curiosity, how are the pot holes on your street repaired?"

I am not so much a fan of CATO. With their posh offices on Mass Ave in DC; backing by corporate donors such as the Koch brothers, two of the richest guys you never heard of; patent for Chicago School economics (utilitarian mathematical modeling; and, their focus on getting political power that actually dovetails with their compromised definition of 'libertarianism': it is quite mistaken to associate their ideas, on balance anyway, with me.

I am, however, a huge fan of the Mises Institute of Auburn, Alabama, far away from the Imperial Center. This is where you will find Austrian Economics, free market thinking void of positivism and pro-government attitudes. I would be proud to be associated with the ideas of such greats as Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Friedrich Hayek, Eugen Bohm-Bawerk, Carl Menger....

A simple difference between the Chicago School (like Cato) and the Austrian School is on the vouchers question. Milton Friedman, one of the Chicago School dons, advocated for vouchers in order to inject some market forces into the system. On the other hand, the Austrians' Rothbard and Mises advocated for the complete separation of state and school because vouchers still left control in the government's hands. How can you have a real free market without actual private property in all phases of production?

Another big difference between CATO and Mises is their stances on central banking and the Federal Reserve. CATO wants to keep the Fed as long as it is managed by Chicago School monetarists. The Austrian School, in contrast, has been the most consistent advocate of abolishing central banks and fiat currency. Many Austrians, like Congressman Ron Paul, want a return to a gold standard. Hayek thought that currencies should be denationalized.

Of course, there is tremendous debate inside the school paradigm, which I am simplifying for practical purposes.

re: Potholes. Funny you should ask. I just sued my city for $300, which they paid, because of their countless potholes that they do not fix. Why would they want to? What can anybody do to make the government accountable? Without market response there is no rationality in the system. How does the government know if it should repair vs build a new road? Where should the road go? With what materials and what time framework? How can they balance these needs with the myriad others?

Politics does not answer these questions economically or from a basis of rights.

The best solution is to privatize all of the roads and associated services. This would render sane the incentives and allocations.

Side note: Government ownership is always bad. Have you noticed that the highway make-work stimulus a la Mussolini projects are done on roads that don't need it? Or do you recall the racist placements of highways in and around Chicago thanks to the original Mayor Dailey's influence?


For ten years I was the superintendant/principal of a tiny, rural, K-8 school district that did not pay its teachers (or me) as well as surrounding districts. Even so, we did an excellent job of educating our mostly poor students, as evidenced by our state test scores and our students' continuing success in high school.

Why did our teachers and I stay put despite opportunities to move to higher paying districts? Because our working conditions were so desirable. For example, our students worked hard and were well-behaved. They cleaned up trash on the road between our school buildings and planted and tended a school garden. (We have to take at least some of the credit for that.) Most of our parents supported our policies and instruction; many of them volunteered to help with school projects. Our school board supported us, too, in many ways; for example, they moved teacher in-service days so that our teachers could all attend a national education conference held nearby. I made sure that teachers had schedules that enabled them to plan together nearly every day and to have duty-free lunch periods. I also made sure that we had art classes, a librarian, music classes, a part-time nurse, and physical education when other districts were making cuts.

In 1998, as the result of a new state law, we were forced to merge with our high school district. Everybody's salary--including mine--went up substantially, but we lost our librarian, art teacher, and nurse, and had our music and phy ed time decreased. We also lost our school board and our ability to make decisions in collaboration with our community.

Morale decreased markedly. I left the district two years later, and several other teachers soon did the same. Would merit pay have persuaded us stay? Not me, and I doubt that it would have persuaded the teachers either. Although committed educators want and need decent salaries, they are not willing to sell their autonomy and the well being of their students for extra cash. Offer them something worthwhile, such as the chance to choose their own professional development experiences or paid time during the summer to revise their curricula, and maybe they'll be more interested.

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