Wednesday, February 15, 2017

FL: Merit Pay (Still) Doesn't Work

Yes, and in other news, the sun is expected to rise in the East tomorrow.

So, Florida has a merit pay system. In fact, Florida has tried to implement merit pay for quite a while. Of course, there are issues:

The design and implementation of merit pay faces several key challenges. First, student outcomes are difficult to define and measure. Second, the contributions of individual teachers to student outcomes are difficult to disentangle from student background and prior achievement. The analysis shows serious deficiencies in several measures of teacher performance. Policy makers should be wary of adapting any measure without careful analysis of its properties and a plan to monitor how it is performing. 

That's from a RAND Corporation study of Florida merit pay published in 2007.

Florida: Why drain the swamp when you can sell swampland?

So maybe that system wasn't so great. Florida's leaders maintained their childlike faith in competitive test-based merit pay, and by 2011, they were ready with a great new law to enshrine it. Flanked by students brought in to serve as props, Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law. It tied teacher pay directly to test results. In fact, it tied teacher job security directly to test results for all new teachers. Because the bill was suppose to help with recruiting. Because lots of new teachers say, "You know, I'd go work in Florida, but I hate the idea of having job security. I want a job where I know I can be fired every single year." Not only does the system rest on the widely-debunked VAM scores, but the majority of teachers get to be judged based on subject areas they don't even teach ("Don't like your pay check, Mr. Phys ED teacher? Then get these kids to read better!") Of course, some folks thought it was great stuff:

It was quickly praised as "breakthrough legislation" and a "model of bold reform" by the foundations run by education reformer Michelle Rhee and former Gov. Jeb Bush, respectively.

That was 2011. It's now 2017, and Orange County schools, based on their own internal study, are ready to call the whole thing a bust. 

“Performance pay systems are not an effective way to increase student achievement,” the report concluded.

The system requires teacher evaluation to be tied to test scores without local district input. It continues to evaluate teachers with test scores for subjects they don't teach. Merit pay has lowered morale without consistently raising test scores (which, as always, is the only "achievement" we're talking about). Some go up, some go down, and nothing in the study suggests that merit pay is helping in any way, shape or form. But because the accountability system is part of state law, there is no escaping it.

And absolutely none of this is a surprise. We've known all along that teacher merit pay does not work. Here's a synopsis of the arguments and some pertinent research from ASCD, published in January of 2017. We know this doesn't work, but Florida is intent on trying to be the nation's leading laboratory for bad education policy.  And I would mock this foolishness some more, but M.S. from the Economist got there first-- in March of 2010.

HEY THERE, talented recent university graduate! I'd like to offer you a job in an extremely challenging and rewarding field. The pay is based almost entirely on performance metrics—you know, what they used to call "commission" in the old days. The better you do, the more you earn! Of course the worse you do, the less you earn, but don't focus on that—you're a winner, you'll do great. We can offer you a five-year contract to start. By "contract" I mean we'll let you work for us, if things work out, but we can of course fire you at any time. And after that you'll have solid contracts! Each contract lasts one year, and we can decide to let you go at the end if you're not performing up to our standards. And by that time, you'll be earning...well, actually, you'll be paid at exactly the same rate as when you started out. We're prohibited by law from paying you more just because you've worked for us longer. If, however, you want to go get qualified in some new technical field or obtain an advanced degree, then...we can't raise your pay either. We basically just pay you a flat standardized commission depending on how well you perform on the mission.

The mission is to train 18 to 25 children to correctly fill out the answers on a series of standardized tests. You have no control over which children will be assigned to you, and unlike other commission-based workers (door-to-door salesmen, say), you will be stuck with the ones you're handed for the whole year. Average salary is $45,000 a year, but if you work your butt off and get lucky with the kids who are assigned to you, you could push it to, oh, $60,000.

And that is why Florida remains a state of last resort for people looking for a teaching career (not that North Carolina isn't trying hard, too). Because it's the Florida way-- we were told this doesn't work, there's proof this doesn't work, and we've collected our own evidence that this isn't working, but by gum, we're just going to keep doing it anyway.


  1. No wonder people push for charters and vouchers when public education is governed by such goofy legislation.

    1. No wonder the people who want charters and vouchers are the same ones who force public education to be governed by such goofy legislation.

  2. It is WAY past time to drain the swamp here in FL Peter!! EXCELLENT article!!! And you hit the nail on the head! FL IS the laboratory for bad education reform - that's because Jeb is still in the driver's seat for education. FL is ground zero for all the experiments (policies and programs) they ultimately push out to the rest of the country. Time to drain the swamp and get rid of the ethics-violating, lying, cheating senators that push bills through that benefit them financially. Half of them own charter schools here in FL and then vote charter legislation in. Sickening.

  3. You are right on target about the quality of students you are assigned. If the kids don’t care and the parents are non-supportive of you, then what teacher would stay in a system where their pay is tied to test scores?