Thursday, October 22, 2009

Merit Just Ain't Worth What It Used to Be

By Claus von Zastrow on October 19, 2009

A funny thing about merit pay programs. The more successful they are, the more they cost. In tough economic times, they can easily fall victim to their own success.

That's apparently what happened to Chicago's program to give students cash for good grades. The program began amidst much hoopla two years ago, only to die a quiet death this year as money grew tight. The school district couldn't count on outside donors to keep the program going during these dark days.

Actually, I should be careful not to tout the program's success prematurely. The verdict is still out on the its results. What is clear is that, as more students earn good grades, the program gets more expensive and therefore more likely to end up on the chopping block.

So teachers have every right to be concerned about merit pay schemes that depend on unstable budgets or even less stable grants and donations. In Chicago, they have to explain to their students that an "A" just ain't worth what it used to be. Can they trust those who would tie teacher pay to student test scores to fund merit pay programs for success?

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