Better luck next time for merit pay in Little Rock

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The Walton Family Foundation's effort to jump-start performance pay in Little Rock, Arkansas has been shot down by the district's elementary teachers. The foundation was offering to give a group of 50 elementary teachers in the district a potentially sizeable bonus for increasing test scores but teachers voted the opportunity down in a secret ballot vote March 24th, a month after the School Board voted 5-2 in support of the plan.

In truth, the teachers were probably right to be skeptical of the plan with its overly narrow focus on single-year test score gains. Fifty randomly selected volunteer teachers would have gotten bonuses of $750 each for each one-point increase made by their class on standardized tests, with expectations that teachers would have earned an average of about $5,500 and a cap of $10,000. Whether or not teachers were actually reacting to the misapplication of value-added methodology, no bonus system can rely exclusively on one-year test score gains and expect the results to be either fair or valid. For a fuller explanation of why single year test score gains are not the best way to decide pay bonuses, see here.

That being said, the fight over the plan was a nasty one. Little Rock Classroom Teachers Association President Katherine Wright Knight minced no words: "We hope this is the end of it. We hope this sends a clear message to the administration and to the Board that merit pay may never work in Little Rock." We, on the other hand, hope that a better merit pay plan comes to Little Rock--and passes.