Major study finds “merit pay” doesn’t work

Does paying teachers bonuses based on student test scores improve achievement? No, it does not, according to the first scientific study of merit pay for teachers ever conducted in the United States.

The new study, conducted by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development in partnership with the Rand Corporation, was released on Sept. 22.

“Our position has long been that paying teachers for student test scores undermines teamwork in a school and is ineffective at improving achievement,” said MTA President Paul Toner. “This study, conducted by a nonprofit research organization using federal funds, demonstrates that merit pay simply doesn’t work.”

During the three-year experiment, 300 middle school teachers in Nashville volunteered to participate. Half were eligible to receive bonuses of $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 based on whether their students’ test scores rose by a specific amount over a certain period of time, and the other half were in the control group and received no bonuses.

After analyzing all of the data, the researchers concluded that students of the teachers receiving bonuses did no better on Tennessee’s state standardized test than students of teachers who received no bonuses.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said he wasn’t surprised by the findings. “Good teachers are good every day, not just on pay day,” he said.