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Bob Sutton

Great comment. I agree teachers should be paid much more and given higher stature in other ways... Singapore is a good example in some ways. But the use of test scores as the metric just isn't working and I also question the need to divide them into winners and losers. Think of quality logic... rather than assuming there will always be a lot of broken parts, why not pay enough money and provide enough supports so that nearly all the parts (teachers) are good -- and be extra aggressive about getting rid of the bad parts (teachers).

R. Cannon

One of the problems here is that almost every study cited inthe RAND article emphasizes the short term use of merit pay in isolated contexts with pre-existing employees. Essentially then, you are taking a sample group who self-selected into the profession (and the particular institutions) based on the pre-existing incentive structure. I taught in urban public schools for several years, and have often likened that work to that of rural family practitioners or, at the furthest extreme, nuns. The vast majority of the people in that line of work are essentially doing the work as a form of "service." Merit pay for nuns would probably not make the better and nunning, same for teachers (thus the teachers viewing it as a form of recognition). Where you DO see effects of merit pay are with systematic changes- either in new institutions recruiting a totally new teaching for or use at the national level (more so the latter) because it then attracts a workforce that is drawn to that system of incentives. There are plenty of smart folks who would great make teachers who also like the idea of being rewarded for success; in our country they become corporate trainers, lawyers, physicians, etc. etc. In nations where teaching is a high-status, high-paid, and high-expectation profession, it becomes a real possibility for that subgroup. There aren't enough nun's in the world to run all of our schools.


This reminds one of two things, both on dealing with systems -

1) the lessons of W. Edwards Deming's Red Bead Experiment:

Red bead example -

2) Donnella Meadows's statement to the effect that the favorite solutions people bring to solving system problems are usually wrong

Kevin Rutkowski

I'm glad to see that people are waking up again to the real effects of these incentives.

In addition to everything you said in your post, it seems to me that most of these incentives make the assumption that a student's performance on a test is based solely on what a teacher did with that student during the current year.

I had consistently good test scores in school regardless of whether a particular teacher I had in a given year was good or bad. Most of my teachers were good, so one bad one did not undo all of my education. Similarly, one good teacher cannot undo years of poor education.

Of course, a student's performance is also influenced by many factors outside of school as well.


We work in public and private organisations and find that bonuses (like targets) distort systems.

We agree it is based upon a false belief that people need 'motivating' instead of an understanding that people are purposeful (human nature). Economists need to modify their theories in the face of extensive evidence.

Unfortunately targets, tables and testing are the three things killing education. This is a short video of Professor John Seddon giving evidence in the USA to California University on the export (from the UK) of 'deliverology'. Targets as incentives.


Interesting findings. I've just left a position in healthcare, which similar champions pay for performance metric to try and compensate based on preventative measures, not disease treatment. I think it has a similar dilemma: doctors aren't responsible for patients eating, exercising or otherwise taking care of themselves.


Surely the problem here is with equating performance purely to exam results? If we take a broader understanding of performance then what better to base pay on than performance? See my blog about this here:

David Hinchee


Has any of the research looked at what happens to the quality of education when a bonus that was previously granted is discontinued?

Stuart Buck

But it's not true that teacher merit pay has never improved student performance. Here are several studies:







Teachers unions are in a tough position relative to defending bad teachers. They have a legal duty of fair representation in the due process system. They can no more force bad teachers out through the disciplinary process than defense lawyers can testify against their clients. Three things could improve this: 1) Teachers have control over part of the evaluation process through peer review. There are many successful examples of this. 2) Due process should take, at most, a couple of months and not years. 3) 60% of teachers quit in the first five years of service. This combined with the "bad teacher" legends points to a system of recruitment and retention that has failed miserably. Tighten up standards for becoming a teacher, offer loan forgiveness, and improve compensation for younger (not all) teachers.

We are doing the opposite in the US. We are blaming teachers for things that are out of their control. We are constructing evaluation systems that hold them accountable through standardized tests which is rife with moral hazard. The people who claim to be reformers are at best dismissive and at the norm, contemptuous toward the teaching force.

I will actively discourage my kids from pursuing teaching until conditions for teachers improve.

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