Monday, August 6, 2012

A Rebuttal to “Can $125,000 Make You a Better Teacher?”

It’s research. That means it’s impartial…right?

Education News says that a person's
salary--decades after grade school--can
determine teacher effectiveness. What say you?
Last week we looked at some interesting evidence surrounding merit-based pay. I argued that as public servants, teachers certainly merit more than what they may already receive, but that increased has not been successful in creating better schools.

Shortly after publishing said post, I came across this article lauding the effects of merit-based pay on student gains. Not one to ignore the other side of any argument, I would like to address some of these findings. From the first paragraph, we read the following:
  • A study out of Harvard, conducted by the economist Raj Chetty, found that those placed in kindergarten classes run by more experienced and better teachers not only were more likely to perform well in later grades, but also were more likely to graduate high school, enroll in college, earn more and save more for retirement. A good teacher, defined by Eric Hanushek of Stanford as landing in the 84th percentile in quality, could add between $22,000 and $46,000 to a student’s lifetime earnings.

“A good teacher” has no more definition than being in the “84th percentile in quality.” But that’s not a definition at all, because “good” and “quality” still have no qualification, no definition, and no standard. “Good” in this context simply demarks an unclear point on a vague scale.

The article goes on to say that where merit-based pay is concerned, we need not worry ourselves with an over-abundance of competition. The article states the following:
  • Using the Hanushek formula, test gains by the students of the teachers either in the Individual Gain or Team Gain groups translated into increase of lifetime earnings of $20,000 to $42,000, while gains of students in Individual Loss and Team Loss classrooms amounted to between $37,000 to $78,000. But aside from that, the authors also determined that teachers participating in the zero-sum incentive program did about as well as those participating in the group incentive plan. This means that testing gains could be obtained without putting teachers in each school in competition with each other. [Emphasis added]

That is a much different story: it’s not that merit-based pay worked; the study simply proves that merit-based pay didn’t not work. But the data assumes too much if it wants to use a middle-aged woman or man’s salary as a means of measuring the effectiveness of an 8th grade history teacher.

I do agree with the study on a crucial point—it’s about the student preparedness for graduating high school, enrolling in college, and being prepared for all that life holds after high school. How that readiness is being measured, however, appears to be most unprofessional.

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