Merit pay fizzles in Big Apple

New York City’s merit pay plan for teachers didn’t improve student achievement, concludes a new study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who compared merit-pay schools to schools that didn’t participate. But few merit-pay schools allocated the bonus money based on performance. More than 80 percent split the extra money equally among all or nearly all the teachers, writes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

 The program didn’t raise test scores at all and may have slightly depressed middle school scores in the participating schools. The impact of the incentives on student attendance, behavior, course grades, regents test scores, and high school graduation were negligible, Fryer writes. And it did not seem to affect teacher behavior either, as measured by retention rates in the school or the district; absenteeism; or teacher perception of the learning environment.

Fryer speculates the incentive scheme was “too ambiguous in its goals and complex in its means” to change teachers’ behavior.

New York City spent $75 million over three years on the bonuses. But it will cost taxpayers much more, notes Teacher Beat, because the district paid off the union to agree to the experiment.  For a minimal payment, teachers were allowed to retire with full benefits five years earlier.  “Performance pay is temporary, but a pension is pretty much forever,” writes Sawchuk.

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  1. That cinches it then.

    If paying teachers more for doing a good job won’t motivate them then quite clearly teachers are over-paid. The obvious policy would be to cut teacher’s pay until performance bonuses start to look good enough to draw forth that extra bit of effort.

  2. What they tried wasn’t merit pay, it was bonus pay. Everyone got the same pay, but if students improved then the teachers got bonuses. Bonus pay assumes that teachers aren’t working as hard as they should, that if they’re offered a bonus they’ll work “harder”. I don’t think that’s the case.

    The trick is to pay people based on merit–and Harrison District 2 in Colorado Springs has the answer. Read about it at
    That’s true merit pay, or, as they call it, Pay For Performance.