I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I’m a third year teacher, and i’ve had really high test scores, quality classroom management, tons of extra-curricular involvement, and hours upon hours spent outside the classroom on curriculum. And I get paid the same as the burned out, low test scoring, check out at 230 do-nothing type teacher.

    I’ve been wondering why there is not an incentive based pay program, but the hangups are pretty serious. Who gets to decide who pays what? It can’t be based solely on test scores, b/c then ti would be a battle to see who could get the higher kids , and also who could get the worse students to ‘drop-out.’

    So how can we get teacher pay based on incentives?

  2. Here’s the real deal. We work for one monopoly and we are represented by another, not a good recipe for change.

    Certainly this system is incapable of changing itself. There’s no real stress on it and stress, after all, is the font of all change. Charter schools and vouchers and pay for performance schemes are nothing but the application of lipstick on a pig.

    My take on this is that real change will have to be forced on it from the outside. Check my blog When Galaxies Collide for more on what needs to change and how to start the process.

  3. Most systems of merit pay based on tests that I’ve heard described use some sort of value added component. This gets difficult because of the complexities and small number of students for most elementary teachers — one or two special cases can really throw classroom results off.

    The other challenge is that results — at least measurable ones — often seem to be discounted by teachers. The Washington State teacher who recently refused to administer the WASL, claiming some sort of civil disobedience (rather than just quit his job & go to work for an organization whose core values concurred with his own).

    My guess is that most merit pay systems would become something that most teachers received — looking at team model incentives is an idea that I think could be worth trying. When the whole team — perhaps with a smaller group of students, say 150 or so — performs well the incentive is provided. I”d think this could encourage professional learning communities and high performing groups.

  4. I would be interested to see more about the team model incentive program, or anything else along those lines. There has to be a better way. After 3 years of teaching, I can’t understand how there are no incentives beyond the standard longevity/step system. The longer you teach the more you get paid, regardless of performance.

    I have read a few ridiculous scenarios that pay incentives can produce. A school in Houston a few years back (2003?) was found to be encouraging students to drop out so their low exam scores wouldn’t be equated in the final results.

    I can see the situation arising where student-swapping taking place, more experienced teachers jockeying to get the brighter kids in their classrooms, leaving younger teacher with the more difficult/lower scoring students.

  5. Morty McNutt

    May 12, 2008 - 5:43 am -

    I must have misinterpreted the article a bit differently. It seems that he was talking about rewarding teachers for working in hard-to-staff schools among other criteria and not solely, “Mrs. Smith in room 219 is an kick-ass teacher and gets a $3,000 bonus while Mr. Brown next door in room 217 is only an awesome teacher and gets only a $2,950 bonus”.
    I work in an inner-city school district. We have about 275 schools. The school district is a third-world country. We have some schools where kids get laptops, new equipment, the best teachers and all the bells and whistles. On the other hand we have schools that get rocks in our gift baskets given by district headquarters. Should the “Harvards” of my school district be treated the same as the “Bo Diddly Techs”? There are a handful of schools that are considered hard to staff and the teachers get a few extra thousand a year as a bonus.
    In an utopian world, merit pay MIGHT have a case. However, racism, sexism, anti-semetism, homophobia, etc. still is king. We enter a slippery slope.

  6. @ Morty … I think you’re right, though both issues are significant: pay for tougher teaching assignments, pay for better performance.

    @ PaulB … I see crisis coming when the “old guard” start retiring and the “new guard” continue to leave after 3-5 years. It’s happening at my old school in the next year or two.

    I do think teacher pay should be based on performance, but I also agree that it shouldn’t be based solely on test scores. Test scores are designed to measure some student outcomes; kept in that perspective, they’re not so bad. Better: comparing a student’s ability at the beginning of a course with their ability at the end gives you some sense of the teacher’s ability.

    Problem is, any real assessment of that teacher should be an assessment of his/her practice as a whole (not just the performance of his/her students on a set of tests). This is a more professional model, but it requires regular and extended observation of the teacher and his/her practice, which involves a number of components (e.g., parent contact, methods for identifying and monitoring student problems, rationale for particular lessons, etc.). That’s fairly complex stuff, but teacher assessment based on something that complex would, more likely than not, be fair. Also, the teacher’s review in such a system would be about his/her practice and the results of that practice given his/her students … not simply on a set of test scores that could be indiscriminately compared across teachers, classes, ability levels, etc.

    Under a system with that type of professional review process, I’d support performance pay, greater teacher autonomy, and the elimination of tenure (because poor teachers should either improve or, if they cannot/will not, get fired). A system that had commonly understood professional standards, assessed those standards fairly, and rewarded those who met the standards with professional consideration, autonomy, and pay would be a system that could attract the kind of intelligent, talented, hard-working teachers that we need to really improve the educational system.

    Dreams, dreams, dreams …

  7. Doug, that swapping you mention is already happening: private schools kick kids out. It’s no surprise that local public schools get a sudden rush of students second semester. Neither is it a surprise when those students are discipline issues and/or those with low test scores in the past. This happens every year.

    For a variety of reasons, merit pay based on test scores won’t work and so should likely be left out of the equation all together. There are other, more revealing and accurate ways to measure teacher merit than those provided by ETS. That’s what we need to look into if we’re going to seriously pursue merit pay.