It is long past time for Nevada, beset by an acute shortage of teachers, to embrace merit pay as a means to retain and reward its best educators.
Teachers are leaving classrooms in droves. There are nearly 3,000 teaching positions open throughout Nevada, including more than 1,000 in the Clark County School District. A true merit pay program would staunch the loss of Silver State educators while benefitting students.
Merit pay has several benefits. It puts extra dollars in the pockets of high-quality instructors, increases teacher productivity, boosts teacher retention and improves student academic performance.
Opposing the idea are teachers unions, which instead allow teachers to be “broadly eligible to receive modest bonuses with ‘performance’ or ‘merit’ in the title.” The problem with these is that they are loosely defined and are ineffective at improving student outcomes.
That is why it is important to distinguish true merit pay from other performance-pay plans which have failed to retain teachers. These include differential pay, modest bonuses with “performance” or “merit” in the title and pay that provides extra compensation to teachers for simply participating in extra education and training.
Teachers unions have been opposed to true merit pay for decades. In the early 1960s, Carl J. Megel, then the president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in the AFL-CIO Position that merit pay “cannot improve the quality of education” and “cannot and will not relieve the teacher shortage.”
Evaluations and studies since then have shown otherwise.
In Texas, for example, the Dallas Independent School District introduced a merit pay initiative for top teachers in 2015. Teachers were evaluated based on student achievement, teacher performance and a student-experience survey. Some 93 percent of teachers who received a ranking of “Proficient II” or higher stayed in the school district, and 100 percent of the school district’s master-level teachers were retained.
Nevada has attempted to introduce merit pay programs in the past:
- Lawmakers first experimented with performance-pay programs in 2005 through a pilot program, but it ended when funding was quickly eliminated;
- The Teachers and Leaders Council of Nevada was created in 2011 to help evaluate teacher performance, which does not account for student performance; and
- A bill passed in 2015 introducing several performance-based compensation and incentive programs is no longer on the books.
Any new performance-pay system structure will face challenges, as they are vulnerable to collective bargaining negotiations within each school district. That does not mean merit pay is not worth fighting for.
To advance the concept of merit pay, the Nevada state legislature and school districts should consider the following, which would benefit both teachers and students:
- Introducing a data-tracking system plans in schools to enable analysts to identify teachers with high-achieving students. Tennessee implemented a longitudinal student data tracking system in 1993 to gauge the academic growth of individual students, and it showed teacher effectiveness was the major determinant of student academic progress.
- Advancing a merit pay system designed by former Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie and Nevada Policy. This exclusive merit pay system would provide $200,000 in compensation to the top 10 percent of teachers, which would incentivize teachers to help improve student performance. This would have been implemented if AB 378 had been passed in 2015.
Nevada ranks as having one of the worst public education systems in the nation, and we know the status quo is not working. Merit pay is a means to reward the best teachers, incentivize instructors to better educate students and increase student performance. What do we have to lose?