Monday, March 14, 2011

Teacher Incentives? Not Cash!

Gotham Schools reports that New York City’s $75 million teacher merit pay experiment quietly bit the dust as the Bloomberg administration sheepishly backed away from the program last year after independent researchers deemed the experiment a failure.

The 2007 merit-pay deal, blessed by both Mayor Bloomberg and former UFT President Randi Weingarten, went public without much debate or kick-back from the union membership. The experiment affected only 200 low-performing schools and limited bonuses to a maximum of $3,000 per teacher if a school met its goals. Weingarten lauded the agreement since it allowed union members to decide how bonuses were distributed in their schools and the program also gave them an opportunity to make more money.

As noted by researcher Roland B. Fryer writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research, there was “no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation,” nor did he find “any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior.”

“If anything,” Fryer said, “student achievement declined,” on state math and English tests and had little if any effect on student attendance, behavior or graduation rates.

In other words, Mr. Obama, if you are interested in school improvement, rethink your Teacher Incentive Fund initiative because unlike most professions in the private sector, financial incentives are not why individuals choose careers as teachers or public safety workers. No one became a cop to get rich or a teacher to earn Wall Street style bonuses.

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