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Quick National Press on Nashville Merit-Pay Study

The Washington Post today highlights a Vanderbilt University study released this week that purports to indicate performance-pay schemes for teachers show little success in improving student academic performance.

The study, conducted by the university’s National Center on Performance Incentives, “took place over the 2007 – 2009 school years with participation by mathematics teachers in grades 5 through 8 in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools,” according to an NCPI press release. “Nearly 300 teachers, approximately 70 percent of all middle-school math teachers in Nashville’s public schools, volunteered to participate. The complete study, including setup and analysis, began in 2005 and ended in 2010.”

According to the Post article, headlined “Study undercuts teacher bonuses:”

The study, which the authors and other experts described as the first scientifically rigorous review of merit pay in the United States, measured the effect of financial incentives on teachers in Nashville public schools and found that better pay alone was not enough to inspire gains.

Advocates of performance pay did not immediately challenge the methodology of the study. But they said its conclusions were narrow and failed to evaluate the full package of professional development and other measures that President Obama and philanthropists such as Bill Gates say are crucial to improving America’s public schools.

The article goes on to quote an education policy scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who questioned the breadth of the NCPI study.

“The biggest role of incentives has to do with selection of who enters and who stays in teaching – i.e., how incentives change the teaching corps through entrance and exits,” (Hoover Senior Fellow Eric) Hanushek said. “I have always thought that the effort effects were small relative to the potential for getting different teachers. Their study has nothing to say about this more important issue.”

Erick Huth, president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association — one of the teachers’ union groups that NCPI executive director Matthew Springer said assisted with the “smooth implementation” of the study — said the results indicate bonus-pay programs “may be a waste of time,” according to the WaPo article.

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