The Final and Absolutely Definitive Study on Merit Pay

Beau Nuss

This rigorous empirical study, funded by the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation
, tracks a teacher-bonus pilot program
conducted by Albuquerque
charter schools between 2005 and 2010. Every year, each participating teacher
was offered a unique reward, to be collected if he/she was able to raise
student achievement in his/her respective subject by at least two full grade
levels. Potential bonuses ranged from $250,000 in cold, hard cash at the high
end to dollar-store trinkets at the low end. The findings offer sweeping
implications for teacher compensation: Controlling for race and class, teachers
who were offered a week’s supply of chocolate-frosted cupcakes were most likely
to meet the desired student-achievement goal. (Those offered vanilla-frosted
goodies only moved their students 0.4 grade levels.) The report concludes with
recommendations for districts seeking to implement effective, lasting, and
relatively affordable merit-pay systems. Forget the big-buck bonuses. Just never
skimp on the butter and always use unsweetened cocoa powder from Cote d’Ivoire
for the frosting. Thank goodness that debate has been settled.

Linda Oh My Darlin’-Hammond,
The Final and Absolutely Definitive Study on Merit Pay” (Music City, TN:
Vanderbuilt/Randy Publications, March 2011).