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Performance Pay Won't Deliver What It Promises

The enduring debate over how to attract the best and the brightest to teaching often involves performance pay ("Performance pay can bring stronger teachers into the classroom," Brookings, Jan. 31).  Its advocates argue that it acts as an incentive, citing studies showing that the highest-performing teachers choose to participate in pay-for-performance programs.

But a closer look calls into question the value of PFP.  To begin with, who are these "highest-performing" teachers?  According to some studies, they are those who score high on SAT or ACT exams. I've never seen any evidence that these standardized exams have any relevance to effectiveness in the classroom. Other studies say the best teachers are those who post high value-added scores.  But the value-added metric continues to be a source of great controversy.  In short, neither the SAT/ACT nor the value-added metric allow valid inferences to be drawn about teacher instructional effectiveness.

I'm not saying that PFP is totally useless.  It may play a small role in inducing some college graduates to consider a teaching career.  But this so-called sorting effect  has been greatly exaggerated.  Most people who opt for teaching do so for reasons other than the money.  That's why combat pay has never worked.  Even if it were doubled, I doubt it would be popular. 

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