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The Debate over Teacher Merit Pay: A Freakonomics Quorum

The term “merit pay” has gained a prominent place in the debate over education reform. First it was former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee trumpeting it as a key to fixing D.C.’s ailing public schools. Then a handful of other districts gave it a go, including Denver, New York City, and Nashville. Merit pay is a big plank in Education Secretary Arne Duncan‘s platform; and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has just launched his own version of merit pay that focuses incentives toward principals.

There’s just one problem: educators almost universally hate merit pay, and have been adamantly opposed to it from day one. Simply, teachers say merit pay won’t work.

In the last year, there’s been some pretty damning evidence proving them right; research showing that merit pay, in a variety of shapes and sizes, fails to raise student performance. In the worst of cases, such as the scandal in Atlanta, it’s contributed to flat-out cheating on the part of teachers and administrators. So, are we surprised that educators don’t respond to monetary incentives? What makes teachers different?

For answers to these and related questions, we decided to convene a Freakonomics Quorum. Read More »