Is a "merit pay" pilot program working in Chicago's schools? Not according to a new report
released by Mathematica Policy Research. The education policy watchdog
studied results from the first two years of the city's Teacher
Advancement Program (TAP), designed jointly by district officials
(including Arne Duncan) and the Chicago Teacher's Union. As the Tribune reported, "selected schools are performing no differently than schools that did not implement the program"
Advocates of merit pay say two years is not nearly enough time to judge the efficacy of the approach. Meanwhile, other Chicago bloggers have raised some very valid concerns about the pilot program's design: it spread bonuses to administrators and staff as well as teachers; it
paid out less than was originally promised; and it doled out bonuses on a
school-wide basis because the link between student-growth data and
individual teachers was difficult to obtain. These issues aren't necessarily unique to Chicago's program, however. New York City, Memphis, and other districts have all operated school-wide bonus systems. Further, it is very difficult
to generate data linking individual teachers to individual students scores, given all of the factors (both in and outside the classroom)
that contribute to a student's success.
That's not to say Chicago's
pilot program should be abandoned. But it definitely needs to be reassessed. For more on the skepticism surrounding "merit pay" programs, check out this January article by Elaine McArdle.