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Merit Pay Review: Ineffective for Boosting Student Achievement

PHOTO: Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho KIDS COUNT.
PHOTO: Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho KIDS COUNT.
October 25, 2012

BOISE, Idaho - Merit pay is a hotly-debated issue for Idaho public school teachers. The idea, expressed in Proposition 2 on the November ballot, is to pay teachers bonuses if student test scores improve. Idaho KIDS COUNT issued a review today that looks at available research based on the results of public teacher merit-pay systems to see if they work. Generally, they do not, the review found.

Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho KIDS COUNT, says since money is tight for education, the information is helpful.

"Idaho's funding per student has declined, in real terms, by 19 percent in the past five years. So, Idaho will be best served if our funds are directed toward programs proven to increase student success."

Neochcea points to an Idaho early-learning program that focused on market-competitive base pay, training and autonomy as an example of a better approach to improving student outcomes.

Daniel Pink, an expert on motivation at work, contributed to the Idaho report. He says merit pay can bring results for jobs focused on routine work, but that's not what education is all about.

"For more creative, conceptual work, the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. So, there is a strong argument for raising the base pay of teachers."

Pink says even the business sector is turning away from merit pay as a motivator or incentive for increased performance.

"It usually has zero effect. You have to wonder why we keep trying to do it, when study after study shows very clearly that it doesn't work very well."

Keeping or repealing merit pay is the decision addressed by Proposition 2, which voters will consider next month. Supporters cite their own array of research contending it will work.

The complete review is at Proposition 2 is available at

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID