To the Editor:
In a blog post excerpted in a recent issue, Diane Ravitch uses a study very incompletely to funnel propaganda through your publication. In “Merit Pay Fails Another Test” (Blogs of the Week, Oct. 6, 2010), she writes more definitively and absolutely than the very authors of the National Center on Performance Incentives study that she references. She states: “Bottom line: Merit pay made no difference. Teachers were working as hard as they knew how, whether for a bonus or not.” While the matter is not proven, my experience suggests that incentive structures can have important impacts on job satisfaction and retention, shaping human capital and influencing quality over time.
Sure enough, a quick search of this incentives study for “retention” leads to the following extremely important disclaimer at the bottom of Page 47: “Finally, we note that advocates of incentive pay often have in mind an entirely different goal from that tested by Project on Incentives in Teaching, or POINT. Their support rests on the view that over the long term, incentive pay will alter the makeup of the workforce for the better by affecting who enters teaching and how long they remain. POINT was not designed to test that hypothesis and has provided only limited information on retention decisions. A more carefully crafted study conducted over a much longer period of time is required to explore the relationship between compensation reform and professional quality that operates through these channels.”
I want to bring this critical distinction to the attention of readers who might otherwise take the historian Diane Ravitch’s commentary for fact.
A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Ravitch’s Merit-Pay Comments Said to Distort Study