Teacher Reward Report: Focus on Collaboration, Not Competition

A new report examining merit pay programs for teachers says that programs that are based solely on student performance do little to improve quality.

Are teachers motivated to teach better by financial rewards in the same way salesmen are motivated by sales targets and production goals? Do merit pay programs that focus on students’ standardized test scores improve student achievement and reward the best teachers?

According to a new report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), the short answer to these questions is ‘no’. After analyzing empirical evidence on what teachers actually want, the report, Creating Teacher Incentives for School Excellence and Equity by the NEPC, says that pay-for-performance schemes don’t respond to what teachers care most about and suggests that some other incentives might be much more successful:

“What most teachers desire is the know-how to teach their subjects as well as the autonomy and supports to best meet the needs of their students,” say the report.

The report says that basing teacher bonuses on standardized test scores alone is ineffective in attracting and retaining good teachers.

In the review, the authors note that “teacher incentive proposals are rarely grounded on what high-quality research indicates are the kinds of teacher incentives that lead to school excellence and equity.”

They propose addressing the conditions that the best teachers want and need, using compensation strategically to support their professional activities and retaining them.

The report notes that there is currently a significant absence of an understanding of how incentives could be used to reward teachers who spread their expertise to their colleagues by working collaboratively instead of in competition.

“Teachers have long been organizationally “siloed” from each other. The authors point out that strategic compensation could be used to reward teachers who collaborate, not compete, with their colleagues in helping them teach for more effectively.”

The authors note that while issues of time, class size and the length of the workday are important in assessing working conditions, policymakers should also focus on other things, namely:

  • Principals who cultivate and embrace teacher leadership
  • Time and tools for teachers to learn from one another
  • Specialized resources for high-need schools, students and subjects
  • The elimination of out-of-field teaching assignments
  • Teaching loads that take the diversity of students into account
  • Leeway to take risks
  • Integration of academic, social and health services for students
  • Safe, well-maintained school buildings

The report concludes:

“What most teachers desire is the know-how to teach their subjects as well as the autonomy and supports to best meet the needs of their students.”


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