Merit Pay Fails The Test

Merit PayAdding to an already impressive list of legislative “solutions” that don’t actually solve any problems, Rick Snyder and the Michigan legislature have decided to consider “merit pay” for public educators.

Like many of their previous legislative priorities including corporate tax cuts, charter schools and right to work, Republicans seem more interested in placating their corporate sugar daddies than analyzing data. Because if Republicans took the time to review the many studies on the topic they would see that the type of merit pay they support doesn’t actually improve educational outcomes.

But perhaps the best thing Michigan legislators could do is stop pretending to be experts in education, stop pretending to understand what motivates teachers to do their best and stop pretending that every problem has a one size fits all corporate strategy solution.

If they started talking to teachers and started talking at them, improvements in education would be much easier to come by.

For example if we take Rick Snyder’s statement about government in which he says “Government doesn’t create jobs, we create an environment where jobs can flourish.” and we put it in terms of education you can see that – teachers don’t create good test scores, they create an environment where good test score can flourish.

Similarly when talking about the number of jobs his new environment would create the Governor said “Can we quantify all the numbers? No. But we know it’s going to happen.” If the governor is averse to setting an expectation that needs to be meet to claim success for his programs you can see how educators being required to meet a goal set by Lansing technocrats might seem like a double standard.

In fact if the governor and Republican legislators would use a little bit of the business acumen they claim to possess, they would realize that this incentive they support fails because it is the wrong incentive. The reality is that regardless of how dedicated or innovative a teacher is if their students aren’t driven to succeed their test scores won’t reflect that teachers work. And unlike a corporation, teachers don’t have the luxury of firing the students that are dragging down their test scores. They are asked to accept all comers and get results.

With this in mind, data tells us that instead of giving incentives to teachers for better test scores we should give students and their parents the incentives. The Kalamazoo promise, for example, awards students money for college as an incentive to graduate from Kalamazoo schools. As a result, students that qualify for the program have better educational outcomes than those that don’t. And as an added benefit, making students accountable for their actions fits the “personal responsibility” meme Republicans are always talking about.

Having said that if Republican politicians truly believe that merit pay gets the best results out of public employees then they should considered making a significant portion of their own pay merit based. They could earn extra pay for things like low unemployment numbers, higher budget surpluses, improved crime rates, greater energy independence, more positive health care outcomes, and of course better student test scores.

Maybe once they are held accountable for the results of others, they can see just how asinine such an idea really is.

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