June 18, 2007 | Graham

Minneapolis backs Bishop on merit pay

Following my recent US theme I noted today that while the ALP and unions in Australia are opposing Julie Bishop’s merit pay proposals for teachers, unions and teachers in Minnesota, and a number of other US states, are enthusiastically embracing similar schemes.
This NYT article quotes John Roper-Batker, unionist and teacher from Minneapolis, “I wanted to get involved just to make sure it wouldn’t happen,” but after learning more about it “I became a salesman for it.” According to the Times, “he and his colleagues have voted in favour of the plan twice by large margins.”
The US schemes seem fairly complex and diverse. For example, student perfomances benchmarked against standardised tests are frequently only one criteria, and it also appears that they tend to reward teams of teachers, rather than individuals. But there is a real world experiment being run in the US that I would have thought both sides of politics would be excited to know more about.
If this election is about the future, why is it so frequently ignored, especially when it is the present in some other countries?
One of the claims that Paul Keating made in his Lateline Interview was that Clinton and Blair copied some of their third way initiatives from the Hawke Keating government. This was one claim he made that was correct. But it seems that his successors aren’t interested in leading the world, or even in playing catch-up with it.

Posted by Graham at 10:37 pm | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Education


  1. Misleading heading. All schemes that include some form of incentive payment are not the same.
    If Julie Bishop has put forward a “plan” it is nothing like that being implemented in Minneapolis public schools. Furthermore, Bishop is offering no additional funds. Minnesota (with a slightly smaller population than NSW) has stumped up $US80 million in additional funds.
    Merit pay is only one (if the most newsworthy one) of the four elements of the Teacher Advancement Program, http://www.talentedteachers.org/tap.taf?page=whatistap
    As noted at http://www.talentedteachers.org/pubs/effective_tap07_summary.pdf , “Many of these elements have been tried in isolation in the past and have not resulted in student achievement gains. Our innovation changes schools’ organizational structure and included key elements to attract, retain, develop, and motivate quality teachers with the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement and closing achievement gaps.”
    Our current federal government’s proposal seems to involve little more than using unspecified criteria for increasing some teachers’ salaries at the expense of others’. I’m not surprised that teachers are unenthusiastic.

    Comment by MikeM — June 19, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  2. On and on it goes! No matter how many times people who carry out research, or know of the research or have substantial experience in educational settings, point out that merit pay is simplistic, that there are many other aspects of recognition of teachers that contribute to exemplary performance, that rewarding only teachers misses the point, that in general merit pay is not grounded in any supporting evidence, etc etc, we continue to hear of how performance pay will make a great difference to educational outcomes. This is all part of the “new normal”, simply assert something, and go on asserting it: evidence is not necessary!
    There is a huge amount of research on teaching and learning going on in many countries, particularly the USA. One of the leading researchers is Professor David Berliner at Arizona State University. If we want to know what it is that leads to exemplary outcomes, read his paper in The Journal of Teacher Education Vol 51/5 (Nov-Dec 2000), p 358. It is accessible through his website. Berliner has frequently attached this bashing of teachers. One of the distinguishing features of his presentations: evidence!
    Berliner lists the features which contribute to exemplary learning. Merit pay for teachers is not one of them.
    The arguments advanced by Minister Bishop on education are like those advanced by many others in the Howard Government on many subjects. Nothing more than the new normal. When these tricks have been tried and failed then we will be asked to go through some other form of nonsense. It is letting children down, it is letting teachers down and it is letting the community down. And most of all it is undermining the future!

    Comment by Des Griffin — June 19, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

  3. Des, I think you’re doing exactly what you accuse others of doing – just asserting. There is plenty of evidence that merit pay works – it’s the default system in professional workplaces.
    The lack of it is also one reason why people move out of teaching, or move from teaching in state schools to private schools.
    Of course it’s not the only thing that motivates workers, job satisfaction is pretty high on the list.
    If you read my post you’d know that I was interested in the wrinkles in the US system, such as rewarding teams rather than individual teachers.
    Couldn’t find the paper that you say is on that website, but I did find this other paper which rather than taking your negative view lays out a history of merit pay and then discusses factors to take into account when instituting it: http://epsl.asu.edu/epru/documents/EPSL-0704-231-EPRU.pdf.
    Worth a read if you haven’t already made up your mind.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 20, 2007 @ 9:59 am

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