Why Do We Need Research On Merit Pay?
July 27, 2012 4 Comments
A new Roland Fryer study on loss aversion and merit pay has been creating quite a stir. Essentially, the study found that when teachers are given a sum of money but told they will be asked to give it back if their students don’t hit certain benchmarks, student achievement rises. The study managed to give Diane Ravitch a conniption and induce a scathing anti-science rant (her second of the season!)
The thing I’ve never understood is why merit pay proponents are so desperate to link it to short-term test score gains. Obviously the type of evaluation is key, but haven’t the last 100 years of business and government management demonstrated that in the long-run when the best employees get paid more money institutions tend to be healthier, more stable, and capable of attracting and keeping higher quality people? Why is paying more money to people who get better results something that needs research? Is it not an accepted best-practice? Would not paying for performance fly in any other business, non-profit, or government? (Warning: This post might break my rhetorical question record.)
The bulk of the arguments against merit pay tend be absurd conceptual leaps that begin with research on motivation and make heavy use of the fact that teachers are “different” from anybody who’s ever held a job throughout the course of human history. Here’s an idea. If paying the best teachers more is a bad idea, why don’t we pay the worst teachers more? What’s that? You say it’s unwise to reward bad teachers? Here’s the thing. Logically speaking, rewarding a bad teacher by paying them more than a good teacher isn’t that different from rewarding a bad teacher by paying them the same as a good teacher. Either way, You’re paying them more than you should.
The fact that there is even a debate about merit pay shows the enormous power of teacher’s unions to call into question anything that involves an objective evaluation of teacher performance. After all, if a merit pay system is allowed to identify good teachers, it follows that it will also be able to identify bad teachers, and if bad teachers can be identified, bad teachers can be fired, and if bad teachers can be fired, a below average teacher who is mistakenly identified as a bad teacher could be fired, and if a below average teacher can be fired then ?????, and if ?????, then our education system will crumble to the ground. Or something like that.