Money Matters

We all want to make more money. Right? I know I do. And most likely you do too. So do teachers…at least until that new money gets labeled “merit pay.” Then teachers suddenly are offended because it says they teach for the money rather than for the love of their students.

Isn’t it time we stopped all of this nonsense and admitted that we all want more money? Once we do that, we also have to admit that, under our capitalist system, we can only get more money if we are worth more money. Among teachers, that means increased student learning.

So it was with great interest that I read the Chicago Sun-Times story from education reporter Rosalind Rossi called, “Cash upfront the way to get teachers to rack up better student test scores, study finds.” The article talks about a new study by behavioral economist John List of the University of chiago that shows “merit pay” does motivate teachers to improve their performance–provided the merit pay system is set up the correct way.

The researchers compared three sets of teachers in a south  suburban Chicago school district. One group got a $4,000 bonus at the start of the school year and were told that if they turned in higher student scores, the bonus would be doubled at the end of the year. If not, they would have to give the money back. A second group was promised $8,000 at the end of the school year if scores rose. A third group was promised nothing and received nothing.

The results were stunning  The group who got the up-front bonus worked hard to keep from losing the money. Their students’ math scores rose 2 ½ to 3 ½ times the gains reported for students being taught by those who were promised year-end bonuses.

The moral of this story? Money matters. Even to teachers. Teachers may have chosen their profession because they wanted to impact the lives of children, but they also want to pay the mortgage and live comfortably.

Isn’t it time we stopped taking offense at the very notion of rewarding excellence with money and started talking about how to use money in way that celebrates teachers’ passion for their job and those whose students soar?

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