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Study finds merit pay for teachers could have merit

Georgia teachers are currently paid by traditional measures, such as seniority

Georgia hasn’t gone there, but not so long ago the idea of moving the state’s public school teachers into a “merit” pay system was a topic of heated debate, with none other than the Gov. Nathan Deal pushing the notion.

The governor wanted a portion of teachers’ pay to “go to how good a teacher they are,” but he also acknowledged the political reality that teacher advocacy groups were opposed, claiming it would undermine teamwork in schools.

That was over a year ago, and Deal has backed off. Teachers are still paid based on traditional measures, such as seniority.

Now, a new review of research on the issue suggests Deal might have been onto something, though there are caveats.

A Vanderbilt “meta-analysis” of 44 studies -- an analysis of other researchers’ work -- finds that basing pay on students test results can “improve the composition of the workforce” and produce a “modest” but statistically significant association with performance.

The report by doctoral students Lam D. Pham and Tuan D. Nguyen was co-led by Matthew G. Springer, assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development. They combed through more than 19,000 research reports before settling on the 44 primary studies that informed their key finding, which was that merit pay has an effect equal to four additional weeks of learning. They attribute this to increased motivation of teachers and the ability to attract and attain more effective teachers.

They offer cautions about both the research they used and the nature of merit pay systems studied. The schemes that appeared to be most effective, they found, seemed to reflect the concerns of Georgia teachers: the best results derived from rewarding group, rather than individual, performance.

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