Matthew Springer, Lam Pham, and Tuan Nguyen from Vanderbilt University recently published “Teacher Merit Pay and Student Test Scores: A Meta-Analysis,” which examines “reported findings from 44 primary studies” of teacher merit pay programs. They concluded that the “presence of a merit pay program is associated with a modest, statistically significant, positive effect on student test scores,” although much depends on the design of the program.
Here is the abstract of the working paper:
In recent years, teacher merit pay programs have garnered considerable political and financial support, spurring rapid growth in the number of research studies investigating the effects of teacher pay incentives. The burgeoning research literature on this topic presents a novel opportunity to synthesize our understanding of how teacher merit pay influences on student test scores, and this study fills that role as a meta-analysis of reported findings from 44 primary studies. Our meta-analysis finds that the presence of a merit pay program is associated with a modest, statistically significant, positive effect on student test scores – 0.052 standard deviations. We also find that effects sizes are highly sensitive to program design and study context, which suggests that while some merit pay programs have the potential to improve student test scores in some contexts, researchers and policy-makers should pay close attention to how the program is structured and implemented.
In recent years, Republicans legislators have advanced a handful of merit pay proposals over the objections of teacher unions and public school advocacy groups.