Would Merit Pay Work Better If More Schools Didn't See It Like Brussel Sprouts?

It’s Friday, so allow me to tease you a bit. Na na nanny boo boo. No, not like that. I mean “tease,” as in the broadcast media lingo for giving you just a little bit of info and a heads-up, while making you wait for the real deal.

But first, my own curiosity was drawn in by this new Education Next article by Stuart Buck and Jay Greene, who both come from that bastion of education reform intelligence at the University of Arkansas. Taking a look at data from Vanderbilt’s National Center on Performance Incentives, they provide some interesting perspective on the whole teacher merit pay debate:

Even if one counts the most token of performance pay plans, they are to be found in no more than 500 school districts out of some 14,000 districts nationwide, a mere 3.5 percent of the total.

On his blog, Jay Greene coined the term MPINO (“merit pay in name only”) to describe the vast majority of these alternative pay programs. The conclusion from the Education Next article expresses his and Buck’s skepticism with a metaphor that strikes a bit too close to home for me:

Imposing merit pay on an unwilling education system is like trying to get kids to eat their vegetables when the kids are 25 years old and stronger than their parents. No matter how nutritious green beans may be, powerful adults who don’t want to eat them can usually keep them off their plates and can almost always keep them out of their mouths.

So basically, if the education system were more like me, and reformers were more like my mom and dad, then merit pay — aka eating my brussel sprouts (yuck!) — would be more successful. I’m not sure I like thinking about it that way. Ahem, what’s that tease, you say?

My Education Policy Center friends are preparing to release soon a report on Colorado’s K-12 compensation innovations — which includes not only school districts but also several charter schools. The big tease? I propose at least one nominee that doesn’t qualify as an MPINO: Harrison School District 2. Maybe it’s the exception rather than the rule.

But stay tuned….