Merit pay matters

| New York Post | Editorial

New York schools have a major problem: For every terrible teacher who quits or retires, the city also loses one of its very best.

Eleven percent of these “irreplaceables” jump ship every year, according to a report released this week by The New Teacher Project — but only 12 percent of bottom-rung educators do.

Among new recruits, the numbers are even more alarming: Almost half of top-quintile teachers leave within their first five years on the job.

As the group notes, this isn’t merely about test scores: Students with top teachers “are more likely to go to college and earn higher salaries as adults, and they are less likely to become teenage parents.”

So it’s vital that the situation be fixed.

Among the report’s recommendations for keeping top teachers: increasing their pay.

Now, the city has doubled teacher salaries in the past decade, with disappointing progress to show for those billions.

Money alone isn’t going to fix New York’s woes. The trouble is, the raises have been smeared on good and bad teachers alike. And all attempts to use merit pay to reward and retain good teachers have been thwarted by the teachers union.

But here’s the thing: Merit pay works, according to a stunning new study of teachers in Chicago-area schools. The report’s authors include former New York City schools official Roland Fryer and “Freakonomics” author Steven Levitt.

True, a traditional merit-pay system employed by the authors — offering teachers an average of $4,000 for improving their students’ scores on tests administered by the academics — showed little promise.

The kids did better, but not by much.

But when the authors gave teachers $4,000 at the beginning of the school year — telling them they’d have to give back some of the cash if their students didn’t hit performance targets — the teachers did something amazing.

They went into overdrive.

It seems that the threat of losing that extra money was enough of an incentive to boost teacher performance and turn mediocre ones into good educators — and good teachers into truly great ones.

Now, the study was small in scope and focused on math tests for K-8 students.

But the United Federation of Teachers, which opposes merit pay, had better take note. It resists bonus pay no matter how well it works; any system that separates the stars from the schmoes is perilous for the union, as it focuses ire on teachers who aren’t up to par and should be dismissed.

But anything that can foster and reward brilliance in the classroom is a worthy endeavor — and this combination of carrots and sticks could be a real winner.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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