Merit Pay in NYC

For the past four years, New York City has experimented with merit pay. Recently their experiment came to a halt, after $57 million and no increase in test scores in schools that received bonus money. 

Why did NYC’s merit-pay program fail? According to the Wall Street Journal, one reason is that unlike other incentive programs, New York didn’t identify stand-out teachers and compensate them, but instead, in a compromise with the teacher’s union, gave bonus pools to schools that performed well. Teachers could vote on whether to distribute the money evenly or to specific staff, and most schools elected to distribute money evenly. Proponents of merit pay say this eliminated the direct link between individual performance and rewards.

But the United Federation of Teachers argues the city did little to help teachers beyond promise extra money.

Research on merit pay is mixed. A closely watched study of a Nashville incentive-pay program found it didn’t improve student outcomes, while a study of Denver’s initiative found it attracted higher-quality teachers and kept them in hard-to-staff schools. The New York deal was backed by deep-pocketed reformers and, in the nation’s largest public-school system, offered a high-profile showcase. Yet, “it was clear in 2007 that this plan wouldn’t enable the best teachers to earn dramatically more, and therefore would likely be limited in long-term effect,” says Bryan Hassell of Public Impact. “This plan paid chump change compared to what the best teachers should be earning for reaching more kids successfully.” [adapted from PEN Weekly]

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