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Does Merit Pay Make a Difference?

Teacher at Computer (Image from NASA)Teachers at Professional Development Training

Historically, teacher pay has been based on seniority and academic credentials. But since taking office in January 2009, President Obama, backed by a number of private foundations, has pushed for greater use of merit pay — giving teachers bonuses when their students make big enough gains in standardized tests. Teachers unions and some Democratic lawmakers have been critical of the concept. Now, they’ve gotten some extra ammunition, the Washington Post reports.

A new Vanderbilt University study found that giving teachers merit payments of up to $15,000 didn’t improve academic performance. The three-year-old study followed 300 Nashville math teachers who taught fifth to eighth grades. It randomly selected half to be eligible for bonuses of $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000; the other half were ineligible. It found “no significant differences in test results” between the groups, the Post says.

Performance pay proponents say the study misses the point, since it looked at merit pay in isolation and didn’t include professional development and other measures they believe are also needed to improve teaching. Since 2009, a federal performance-pay program has grown from $100 million to $400 million, and administration officials say the effort has “shown promising initial results,” according to the Post. The White House promises a comprehensive review of the program in the near future.

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