Friday, February 02, 2007

February 2, 2007 A Question About the Vanderbilt Teacher Merit Pay Study

A previous post mentioned a Vanderbilt teacher merit pay study that will use a number of Metro-Nashville schools as a testing ground to answer the question-- if teachers are rewarded with extra "merit" pay for increasing test scores, will student test scores increase?

A comment was sent to let me know that "Nashville schools, as a whole, are in horrible condition" and "if the teachers don't have decent classrooms, what does it matter how or what they teach?"

What is missing in this comment on the proposed study of merit pay is an understanding of how a valid study would and should be conducted.

This commenter seems to imply that you shouldn't and can't really study merit pay for teachers until after classroom and other needs are up to whatever standard this person thinks is OK or "decent."

While it is obvious that you could study merit pay in an environment where every building is first-class and everybody has a computer, it is also obvious that merit pay can be studied in less than ideal situations as well.

First-class buildings are not a requirement before you can begin a study of merit pay. A computer for every student is not a requirement before you can begin a study of merit pay.

In fact, a study of merit pay would probably never take place if researchers had to wait until a school system had just the "right" kind of buildings or just the "right number" of computers or just the "right" anything else.

Technology and adequate buildings are important. A good curriculum, good discipline, and high academic standards are important. Parental support is important. But none of these factors have to be above average or excellent before the researchers at Vanderbilt can begin a study of the effect of merit pay.

Vanderbilt is in Nashville. The researchers should be well aware of the physical and other conditions--below average, average, or above average--at each Nashville school that they will study. A study of merit pay can occur in a small school or a large school, in a plain building or a fancy one, and in a classroom that has one computer or ten.

A thorough, well-designed, scientific study by Vanderbilt researchers should provide an answer about the effect, if any, of teacher merit pay on student test scores.

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