Merit pay for teachers: Does it work?

Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon proposes implementing here a favourite of conservatives down south: Merit pay for teachers. A la Glengarry Glen Ross, you reward your best and fire the worst.

Does it work?

Well as his rival George Abbot notes – if student performance is your measure – no, it hasn’t. Here is a summary of a Vanderbilt University study:

Today, Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives released a report from a three-year controlled experiment on merit pay in the Nashville schools. Teachers in the treatment group, from fifth through eighth grades, stood to earn an extra $15,000 a year if their students improved enough on math tests. Teachers in the control group could not earn bonuses.

With one exception researchers could not fully explain—fifth grade—they found that students of teachers eligible for bonuses performed no better than other students. The teachers in one group did not approach instruction differently from those in the other, and where they did, it did not affect student achievement. Scores went up for both groups, “a trend that is probably due to some combination of increasing familiarity with a criterion-referenced test introduced in 2004 and to an intense, high-profile effort to improve test scores to avoid NCLB sanctions.”

Update: I do, however, endorse the idea of merit pay for Kevin Falcon.