By Lauren Kellner
MARCH 14, 2011
$75 million program did not improve achievement in New York CityA study by Harvard economist Ronald Fryer has concluded that the $75 million experiment in merit pay for New York City public school teachers, launched in 2007, had no significant impact on student achievement in the schools where it was implemented.
First with donations from private funders, then with public money, the program offered bonuses to schools that showed improvement on their school report cards. Report cards measure student performance on state tests as well as student, parent and teacher responses to the citywide school survey.
The schools were awarded $3,000 per teacher if they were able to fully meet their targeted goals for improvement, and $1,500 per teacher for showing 75 percent improvement. More than 80 percent of the schools that were eligible for bonuses distributed the cash evenly among teachers although it was not required to do so.
The idea of “merit pay” comes straight from the corporate world, and is based on the assumption that teachers will work harder and therefore improve their students’ levels of achievement if they are given an economic incentive. The idea is that teachers can be motivated with the promise of financial reward, the same way a salesman can be motivated by the promise of a commission.
Opening up state laws to allow for merit pay in the future was one of the key steps for states to become eligible for federal Race to the Top funding last year. Merit pay has been strongly pushed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and other corporate backers of the education “reform” movement. Teachers’ unions have generally resisted measures to tie teachers’ pay to test scores, but in several districts have agreed to experimental programs like the one in New York.
In New York City, Fryer found that the program had a “negligible” affect on attendance, behavior, high school Regents exam scores and graduation rates, while having a significantly negative impact on middle school students’ math and English test scores.
This study indicates that corporate ideas of competition and financial incentive do not apply to the world of education, and even have a harmful effect on children’s learning. It is up to school communities to organize and take the lead in demanding that parents, students and teachers, not corporate CEOs, determine what is best for children.