Few people realize that merit pay schemes have been tried again and again since the 1920s.
Belief in them waxes and wanes, but the results have never been robust.
Now we have the findings of the most thorough trial of teacher merit pay, conducted by first-rate economists at Vanderbilt University's National Center for Performance Incentives. Many people expected that this trial would show positive results because the bonus for getting higher scores was so large: Teachers in the treatment group could get up to $15,000 for higher scores.
After a three-year trial, the researchers concluded that the teachers in the treatment group did not get better results than those in the control group, who were not in line to get a bonus. There was a gain for 5th graders in the treatment group, but it washed out in 6th grade.
Bottom line: Merit pay made no difference. Teachers were working as hard as they knew how, whether for a bonus or not.