Paying teachers for merit only works if you can measure merit

June 24, 2010 at 11:00 am 4 comments

One of the most critical issues for secondary school CS education is teachers.  Whether we’re creating technology to teach, or whether we’re trying to reach CS10K, the issue is creating enough good teachers to ramp up computing education.  To emphasize, the goal is creating enough good teachers.  We still have a big problem measuring “good.”

One of the nation’s most ambitious efforts to link teacher compensation to student achievement has done little to improve test scores or retain teachers at participating Chicago Public Schools, according to a report released Tuesday.

More than three years after the pilot program was announced to great fanfare by Mayor Richard Daley and former schools chief Arne Duncan, now U.S. education secretary, selected schools are performing no differently than schools that did not implement the program, according to the research group Mathematica.

via Merit pay system found to make no difference at Chicago Public Schools –

The key insight to this paper comes later in the article:

“Fundamentally, you still have the same performance evaluation and the same compensation system that every other school has,” said Alicia Winckler, the chief of human capital at the school district. “Until you really change the base structures, I don’t anticipate we’ll see different outcomes.”

This makes sense to me.  Economics says that you get what you reward.  If you can’t measure real teacher merit, then you’re not rewarding what you want.  You’re encouraging a construct, a desire to do better at the merit measures.  Until we know how to measure what being a “good teacher” means, paying for merit may not work.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

How much does undergraduate education really cost? More teacher education vs. centralized control

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. weilunion  |  June 24, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Merit pay tied to i nauthetnic assessments i n aother opportunity to blame teachers for not living up to metrics. It has nothing to do with improving i nstruction, teachers or public education.

    See my articles on this at

    Pplease to to author’s posts, Danny Weil, and click. Hundreds of articles



  • 2. Alfred Thompson  |  June 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Good educators know good teaching when they see it. One problem is that it is not always as tangable as test scores. The other is that there is a lack of trust in too many schools of administrators to act fairly. I’m not sure why this is but the perception of favoritism in schools I have worrked in or worked with is far higher than in any company I have ever worked for or with. Fixing that is why test scores are so attractive to so many.
    Of course we use them incorrectly. We use them to compare apples (this year’s students) to oranges (last year’s students) who are often wildly different.
    I have no easy answer.

  • 3. Fred Martin  |  June 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I think one of the other challenges with this is that we’re all “standing on the shoulder of giants” when we receive good students into our classrooms. If I have really smart kids as juniors, then they probably had good teaching as 1st year college students, HS students, middle school students, and so on all the way back.

    I’ve read about HS AP teachers who receive pay based on how many of their students who get 4s and 5s on the AP. That’s totally unfair, because what about those students’ great 9th and 10th grade teachers, who happen not to be teaching AP?

    The whole merit pay thing is a disaster in the making. Divide and conquer.


  • 4. Owen Astrachan  |  June 24, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Who says “merit” has to do with student achievement? I agree that we want good teachers, both in the CS10K project and everywhere there’s teaching! But absolute merit can’t work, because how do you get teachers into schools where the “bad” students go, those who won’t score well on tests? If you test how well students improve, there are still too many exogenous factors. Merit tied to student achievement isn’t a good way to measure good. I don’t have a good way for beginning teachers, but many independent and charter schools are looking at “pay for responsibility” models — -the more stuff you’re responsible for, the more pay you get, where “stuff” isn’t lunch-duty, but pedagogical: lead/master teacher, professional development (both giving and getting) and so on.


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