Merit Pay for Teachers Benefits Educators, Students

Frances Floresca

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?

Frances Floresca

Frances Floresca

Director of Education Policy Initiatives

Frances Floresca joined Nevada Policy as the Director of Education Policy Initiatives in 2022, and she has considered herself an advocate for education freedom long before getting involved with politics. She and her sister attended different school types growing up, and even then, she realized that different students have different needs.

She previously worked for Independent Women’s Network and Citizens Against Government Waste. She has been invited to the White House and was cited in the 2021 Republican Study Committee’s budget proposal to Congress. Frances’s work has also been recognized in the Washington Examiner, InsideSources, Deseret News, and The Salt Lake Tribune. During college, she wrote for Campus Reform and worked on campaigns.

She also represented Utah in the Cherry Blossom Princess Program in Washington, D.C. in 2021, and she is also an avid classical singer having sung for high-ranking officials from around the world and the national anthem for events around the country. In December 2019, she received her B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Utah. Frances was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah and has also lived in Washington, D.C. She now resides with her husband and son in Henderson, Nevada.