New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement Monday at NBC's Education Nation summit that city schools will receive a $36 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Education highlights an ongoing debate over merit pay for teachers.
The department is distributing a total of $442 million to schools and nonprofit organizations across the nation for development of merit pay programs for teachers and principals, in what will amount to a field test of performance-based pay in the classroom.
But Bloomberg's announcement comes just days after the release of a ground-breaking study by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives that is certain to heat up the debate over merit pay.
Billed as the first ever scientific study of performance pay ever conducted in the U.S., the Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT) study conducted from 2007 through 2009 in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools found that merit pay alone did not improve test scores.
But the study of nearly 300 middle-school math teachers did not test other types of incentives or support, such as professional development or guidance on instructional practices, leaving plenty of room for debate.
That means that the federal grants to school districts such as Wake County, N.C., and the New York City Department of Education, state education departments in Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio and Louisiana and private companies such as Uplift Education, which has five charter schools in Texas, can be expected to come under intense scrutiny as they are implemented.
Expect Education Secretary Arne Duncan to have something to say on that effort at his appearance this afternoon at Education Nation.