Merit Pay is NOT Enough to Make a Difference in the Classroom.

The National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University just reported on the finding of their 3-year POINT project. This research, the first scientific study of performance pay ever conducted in the United States, investigated the foundational question, “Does bonus pay alone improve student outcomes?” Interestingly enough, they found the answer to be negative.

This research took place with mathematics teachers in grades 5 – 8 in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. It included nearly 300 middle school teachers who volunteered for participation. These teachers were offered annual bonuses of $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 based upon improvement in their students’ test scores.

With these sizable bonuses available, only about 1 out of 3 teachers received remuneration. Over the 3-year period, the researchers paid out more than $1.27 million in bonuses with the average bonus of $10,000 for those teachers who earned them.

Question is WHY?  WHY didn’t this money make a difference?

Katie Stansberry of
ISTE Connects says that it’s a matter of motivation. She points out that teachers didn’t get into the profession to make money. She stated that teachers are doing “the best they can for their students.”  Paying them more money won’t make a difference.

TRUE. Money doesn’t make a difference, but the answer lies in the phrase “doing the best they can.” The part of this research that is seems to be overlooked by reporters of this research is that the ONLY change that was introduced into the instructional equation was the offer of notable bonuses. This model specifically did not include any change in professional development, materials or newly-adopted instructional programs. They were testing to see if merit pay alone could make a difference. 

Linda Perlstein, who writes The Educated Reporter blog, reports that “Presuming that merit pay alone would elevate student achievement makes sense if you assume teachers have a hidden trove of skills and effort they are not unloosing on their students only because they lack the proper incentives to do so.” 

Money IS NOT ENOUGH.  Change in education requires updates in the learning/teaching paradigm. Teachers need to create student-centric learning environments where students are empowered to learn. Making them active participants in their own learning brings a level of relevance and self-imposed (or peer-imposed) rigor that will make a difference.

What do you think?  Is merit pay enough?  What changes have you made that have improved your learning environment?


What’s YOUR opinion?
Leave a comment and keep the discussion going.

0 thoughts on “Merit Pay is NOT Enough to Make a Difference in the Classroom.

  1. Dr. Z-
    Merit pay has gained a lot of media attention. Recently, both Alfie Kohn and Obama were on the Oprah show suggesting how achievement should be the measure of a "good teacher." Kohn and others brought up merit pay as an incentive and achievement monitoring as a way to create accountability. When most say achievement, they mean how well the students score on norm-referenced tests. Perhaps we should reevaluate the word "achievement" before we use it as a society to gauge how well our students and teachers are doing.

  2. But you are missing the point of the research. Merit pay will NOT work unless they use teaching different strategies and develop different perspectives on how to address the needs of our students today.

    The measurement question is a good one, but nothing will change if we just throw money at it.


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