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Merit Pay Encourages Teaching to the Test. What About Teachers of Nontested Subjects?

merit pay plan

Merit Pay Is an Unproven Reform. Principle 2: Consistent Communication Is Critical. Pesky Questions. Identifying Program Participants.

Measuring Teacher Effectiveness. Ratings and Rewards. Program Implementation Timeline. Step 1: Mulling It Over. Step 5: Details, Details, Details. Step 8: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines. Step 9: Checking In. Step Show Me the Money.


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A motivated teacher, as described here, is one who not only feels satisfied with his or her job, but also is empowered to strive for excellence and growth in instructional practice. This issue looks at teacher motivation and considers how it has been treated historically, how it is affected by external and internal factors, and how new directions in professional development, teacher evaluation, new teacher induction and school reform are currently creating opportunities for more effective teacher motivation.

In the s, state governments and local school districts enacted an array of incentive plans designed to recruit, reward, and retain the best teachers. Merit pay and career ladders were intended to provide financial incentives, varied work, and advancement opportunities for seasoned teachers.

Motivating teachers to improve instruction

These, along with across-the-board pay raises, work environment premiums for difficult assignments, and grants or sabbaticals for research and study, were expected to improve teacher performance and motivation. According to Johnson , measures developed to boost teacher motivation are based on three theories of motivation and productivity:.

The first two theories are justification for merit pay and career ladders, and the third suggests differentiated staffing, use of organizational incentives, and reform-oriented staff development. The idea of merit pay has a straightforward appeal: it provides financial rewards for meeting established goals and standards.

Another concern is that merit pay plans may encourage teachers to adjust their teaching down to the program goals, setting their sights no higher than the standards Coltham Odden and Kelley reviewed recent research and experience and concluded that individual merit and incentive pay programs do not work and, in fact, are often detrimental A number of studies have suggested that merit pay plans often divide faculties, set teachers against their administrators, are plagued by inadequate evaluation methods, and may be inappropriate for organizations such as schools that require cooperative, collaborative work Lawler However, many of these programs have faltered for largely the same reasons that merit pay plans have failed - unanticipated costs, teacher opposition, inadequate evaluation methods, and dissension Freiberg Merit pay and other incentive policies gained legislative popularity largely because of their seeming simplicity.

They were meant to provide external incentives - financial rewards, advancement opportunities, workplace variety - but did not adequately resolve the problem of teacher satisfaction. Frase offers one reason why measures relying on external rewards have been insufficient.

Step 6: Pay for Performance

There is overwhelming research evidence, he says, that teachers enter teaching to help young people learn, that their most gratifying reward is accomplishing this goal, and that the work-related factors most important to teachers are those that allow them to practice their craft successfully see also Frase ; Lortie ; Mitchell, Ortiz, and Mitchell Work context factors are those that meet baseline needs. In general, context factors clear the road of the debris that block effective teaching.

In adequate supply, these factors prevent dissatisfaction. But these factors may not have an extended motivational effect or lead to improved teaching. For example, a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that teacher compensation, including salary, benefits, and supplemental income, showed little relation to long-term satisfaction with teaching as a career NCES According to Frase , content variables are the crucial factor in motivating teachers to high levels of performance.

When Merit Pay Is Worth Pursuing - Educational Leadership

Work content factors are intrinsic to the work itself. They include opportunities for professional development, recognition, challenging and varied work, increased responsibility, achievement, empowerment, and authority. Some researchers argue that teachers who do not feel supported in these states are less motivated to do their best work in the classroom NCES Data from the National Center for Education Statistics confirm that staff recognition, parental support, teacher participation in school decision making, influence over school policy, and control in the classroom are the factors most strongly associated with teacher satisfaction.

Other research concurs that most teachers need to have a sense of accomplishment in these sectors if they are to persevere and excel in the difficult work of teaching. Frase and Sorenson studied work content factors in a questionnaire administered to 73 San Diego School District teachers. Since the goal of current school reform efforts is to improve student achievement, these efforts are well-aligned with the primary motivator of teachers - the power to help children learn. Some research shows that when principals effectively used shared governance strategies and participatory management, teachers feel energized and motivated, and their sense of ownership and empowerment increases Blase and Blase Well-implemented school improvement plans can increase collegiality and give teachers the satisfaction to committing themselves to school improvement goals.

Some practitioners believe that such rewards may be more effective in motivating teachers and improving teaching practices than individual, extrinsic rewards Johnson However, Frase and Sorenson caution that not every teacher will respond positively to educational reform approaches.

Filling in the Gaps From the Late Cretaceous

Autonomy for one may be isolation for another; one teacher may welcome feedback, another may see it as infringement on his or her professionalism; and while one may welcome collaboration, another may see it as stressful imposition. We based the system on examples from other charter schools in the area, but it would have been nice to have had evidence from around the country to inform the development of our teacher compensation system.

An aptly titled new book, A Straightforward Guide to Teacher Merit Pay , by researchers Gary Ritter and Joshua Barnett , provides a great resource for public charter schools and charter networks that may be in the process of implementing merit pay or revising an existing compensation system. The book pulls together existing research on merit pay and provides sound advice for developing a system that will work within the context of the school. I plan to bring the book to my board this year when we review our compensation system.

How Are Teachers Currently Compensated?

In addition to providing solid information about the principles of a well-crafted teacher merit pay system, the book includes a chapter that presents evidence-based responses to 12 common criticisms of merit pay systems. You may have heard some of them:.


  1. Encouraging and Rewarding Schoolwide Improvement?
  2. merit pay plan.
  3. Deadline.
  4. No, No, Nanette.
  5. The discussion of these criticisms is presented in a well-reasoned way that would allow for a healthier debate on the use of merit pay. Anna Nicotera.