Fair Merit Pay Schemes, Part II

It’s often said that teacher merit pay can’t ever work. I’m cautiously optimistic, though I agree with the critics that one of the biggest challenges is designing a fair merit pay plan. So I’ve started posting examples of different teacher merit pay schemes that have operated elsewhere (see Fair Merit Pay Schemes, Part I).

This week’s example comes from Denver, where in 2005 teacher unions and voters approved a merit pay scheme. Known as ProComp, it’s based on the following four factors:

Knowledge and Skills – Teachers will earn compensation for acquiring and demonstrating knowledge and skills by completing annual professional development units, through earning additional graduate degrees and national certificates and may be reimbursed up to $1,000 for tuition.

Professional Evaluation – Teachers will be recognized for their classroom skill by receiving salary increases every three years for satisfactory evaluations.

Student Growth – Teachers will be rewarded for the academic growth of their students. They can earn compensation for meeting annual objectives, for exceeding CSAP growth goals and for working in a school judged distinguished based on academic gains and other factors.

Market Incentives – Bonuses can assist the district and schools in meeting specific needs. Teachers in hard to serve schools—those faced with academic challenges—can earn annual bonuses. Bonuses will be available to those filling hard to staff positions—assignments which historically have shortages of qualified applicants.

Or as the Rocky Mountain News more succinctly put it:

The plan essentially cobbles together nine components that teachers can select to build their paychecks. Agree to work in a challenging school? Add $999 to your annual salary. Earn a master’s degree? Add $2,997 more. Meet your annual goals for student achievement? Get another $333 for each objective met.

Edwonk has more background on the Denver plan.

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8 Responses to Fair Merit Pay Schemes, Part II

  1. Kevin Cox says:

    Money is NOT an incentive for many of us – once we have enough. The things that are important are the esteem of others, the pleasure in a job well done, the joy of seeing the results of your efforts working for the common good, the fun of working in a group to a common goal, the happiness that comes from shared successes. These are much more important than a solitary success of a bigger pay packet.

    Variations in pay and remuneration gets in the way for good group performance. I sometimes think that economists are trying to justify their theories which are reducible to mathematical equations rather than tackling the much harder problems that are not so easily quantified.

    Why bother trying to bring so called competition into an environment where cooperation and collegiality is so important.

    If you have extra money then why not spend it on making the life of all teachers better. Read Ross Gittins article on the subject. He says it so much better than I can.


  2. John says:


    If money isn’t everything, how come teachers are perenially whinging about the size of their pay packets?

  3. Kevin Cox says:

    I am questioning the need to have variations in pay based on merit – not the relative salaries of teachers to other professions.

    Is there a groundswell of teachers wanting merit based pay?

    If our objective is to have a good educational environment for our children then will a pay system based on merit give a better educational outcomes for the students? I am sceptical.

    Andrew started from an observation that the relative scores of teachers on numeracy and literacy is falling. I have questioned that original reading of the data and believe there is another at least partial explanation. He has then assummed that it is better to have teachers who score better at numeracy and literacy tests. Again we should question this as the answer is not straight forward. From this it is then thought that the best solution to attract teachers who score better is to pay some of them more based on some form of merit. Andrew is coming up with lots of different ways of measuring merit. This in itself is a worry because which one should we select.

    I think we should question each step in this line of reasoning.

    We should also question the implementation of any such policy in terms of overall funding. My guess is that the givers of funds will not increase the total amount but will at best give the same amount but will distribute it in different ways between the teachers so that some will have more and some will have less based on one or more merit criteria. Again from the total system perspective will this give a better educational outcome?

  4. Anna says:

    I’m a former teacher who didn’t leave the profession because of the salary it offered (although having somewhat a higher salary now is a bonus).

    I can see potential problems with two of the ProComp factors (Professional Evaluation and Student Growth), but the other two sound workable to me.

    Possible problems:

    Professional Evaluation – How workable this would be depends on who is doing the evaluating, what they’re evaluating and how they’re evaluating it. Peer or student evaluation could be problematic – peer evaluation because it would create unecessary tension and competition, student evaluation because students pay ‘punish’ stricter teachers. A more ‘onjective’ type of evaluation (e.g. by school inspector types) could be better. Nevertheless, with an evaluator in the classroom, the dynamic changes (students tend to be better behaved) so evaluations may not be entirely accurate.

    The Student Growth (i.e. improvement in test scores) way of assessing teachers fails to adequately recognise the role of students in the learning process. Learning is a two way process. While teachers should be able to inspire students, some students can, for a wide range of reasons, be very difficult for even the best teachers to inspire. There is also a danger that this may lead to teachers ‘teaching to the test’ and neglecting less measurable, but still important, educational outcomes. Also, this system would disadvantage teachers of special education students.

    I would support rewarding teachers for undertaking further study and/or professional development. I’d be strongly in favour of incentives for teachers to teach in hard to staff (i.e. rural, remote or ‘difficult’) schools, and to mentor younger teachers (particularly in ‘difficult’ schools).

  5. Anna says:

    That should be ‘may punish’ and ‘objective’, not ‘pay punish’ and ‘onjective’!

  6. Christine says:

    Kevin’s point on other things mattering is interesting – re that study of the imposition of financial penalties for late pickup at daycares leading to an increase in late pickups (which was by economists – we do think about these things, really).

    But Andrew’s interest in merit pay is not just that it might give an incentive to existing teachers to do better, but that it might actually change the composition of the group of teachers. If it’s seen as a profession with no chance of improvement, and no emphasis on rewarding people who do well (in whatever way – financial isn’t the only one), then people who do want to do well and be rewarded for it might not become teachers. Still not sure myself that it’ll work out – more evidence needed on both fronts.

    Plus Kevin: what about when you’re in a crap school, with a horrid principal, with kids whose lives at home are not so hot? When you’re getting absolutely no psychic benefits, mightn’t the satisfaction that at least you’re getting paid for it help out just a bit?

  7. Kevin Cox says:

    Christine I agree with you. We should have evaluation of teachers – but the emphasis is on teacher development not on external rewards. The idea of prizes, points (like master card points in bridge), or other ways of being able to get recognition for your efforts in self development are good things to do.

    Your final paragraph points out where we should have differentials. It is not for how good we are but in what crap jobs we do. Pay people in difficult schools more, give heads more for their miserable jobs, pay people more to go to country areas and pay people less in schools full of high achievers in desirable locations who “teach” themselves.

  8. Pingback: Andrew Leigh » Blog Archive » Fair Merit Pay Schemes, Part III

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