Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Jersey Jazzman: The Merit Pay Fairy Dies in Newark

Jersey Jazzman: The Merit Pay Fairy Dies in Newark

The Merit Pay Fairy Dies in Newark
Hey, youse bums -- get back to the teachin' already!

One of the long-running characters on this blog is the Merit Pay Fairy.

The Merit Pay Fairy lives in the dreams of right-wing think tanks and labor economists, who are absolutely convinced that our current teacher pay system -- based on seniority and educational attainment -- is keeping teachers from achieving their fullest potential. It matters little that even the most generous readings of the research find practically small effects* of switching to pay-for-performance systems, or that merit pay in other professions is quite rare (especially when it is based on the performance of others; teacher merit pay is, in many contexts, based on student, and not teacher, performance). 

Merit pay advocates also rarely acknowledge that adult developmental theory suggests that rewards later in life, such as higher pay, fulfill a need for older workers, or that messing with pay distributions has the potential to screw up the pool of potential teacher candidates, or that shifting pay from the bottom of the teacher "quality" distribution to the top -- and, really, that's what merit pay does -- still leaves policymakers with the problem of deciding which students get which teachers.

Issues like these, however, are at the core of any merit pay policy. Sure, pay-for-performance sounds great; it comports nicely with key concepts in economic theory. But when it comes time to implement it in an actual, real-world situation, you've got to confront a whole host of realities that theory doesn't address.

Which is what seems to have happened in Newark:
In 2012, Newark teachers agreed to a controversial new contract that linked their pay to student achievement — a stark departure from the way most teachers across the country are paid. 
The idea was to reward teachers for excellent performance, rather CONTINUE READING: Jersey Jazzman: The Merit Pay Fairy Dies in Newark