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New & Now: Spring 2009

New View of ALS

Strong Start

God and Coal

Plastics Plant

Joint Genetics

Incentives Support

Incentives Support

Teacher Performance Pay Finds A Powerful New Advocate

Last year Micahael Podgursky, an MU professor of economics and nationally respected authority on the relationship between teacher “performance incentives” and student achievement, told Illumination that current teacher compensation schemes were serving students poorly. "Inefficient," was the word Podgursky used: "That’s the bottom line. We’re not spending money in an efficient way to get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of student achievement.”

This view is not without critics, some of whom argue forcefully that performance incentives and other merit pay schemes are divisive, subjective, and encourage "teaching to the test" — or whatever student achievement benchmark school administrators have settled upon.

Still, Podgursky’s critique of the classroom status quo appears to be gaining momentum, as witnessed by recent comments from the Educator-in-Chief, President Barack Obama. During a speech on March 10, the president outlined education goals that included unabashed support for accountability standards.

“Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement, and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools,” Obama said. “Teachers throughout a school will benefit from guidance and support to help them improve. And just as we have to give our teachers all the support they need to be successful, we need to make sure our students have the teacher they need to be successful. That means states and school districts taking steps to move bad teachers out of the classroom. Let me be clear: if a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching.”

Podgursky has spent years surveying research studies of merit-pay systems in the United States, as well as programs in Israel, Africa and the United Kingdom. He has found that single-salary pay schedules — those that pay based on a teacher’s education and years of service — can cause a shortage of teachers in specific subject areas like science and math, an inequitable distribution of novice teachers, and can make it harder to recruit and retain effective teachers.

"Because single-salary pay schedules do not adapt to teaching field demands, the teacher market adjusts in terms of quality," Podgursky says. “The pay schedule also allows teachers with more seniority to exercise the option to move to better working conditions, migrating away from high-poverty schools. Novice teachers frequently fill the subsequent openings in these high-poverty schools. Economic theory also suggests that if more effective teachers are rewarded on the basis of performance, incumbent teachers would have an incentive to work more effectively to raise their performance.”

Podgursky has published widely on education policy and teacher quality issues, and is co-author of the book, Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality. His recent work has considered school personnel policies and their effect on teacher quality. You can read more about his work in Illumination’s Spring 2008 edition.

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Published by the Office of Research.

©2009 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.


Illumination home. Spring 2009 Table of Contents.