April 23, 2007



Teacher Merit Pay Systems Involve Tough Choices

Report cautions policy makers against simplistic pay solutions


Contact: Teri Battaglieri (248)444-7071;

                Debbi C. Harris (850)445-1306;


EAST LANSING, Mich., April 23, 2007 – Merit pay systems for teachers, although currently enjoying renewed popularity with policy makers, are not a panacea according to a new policy brief released today by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (GLC).


The brief, “Promises and Pitfalls of Alternative Teacher Compensation Approaches,” is by Debbi C. Harris, Ph.D and is one in a series of briefs on education issues funded by the GLC.


In her brief, Harris explores the three main types of teacher compensation systems used in the U.S. They are the uniform salary schedule which is used in most districts, as well as two types of merit-pay systems: performance-based and outcome-based. She notes that though there are advantages to each approach, there are also adverse, often unintended, consequences to each system as well.


In contrast to the uniform salary schedule that rewards years of experience and additional education for teachers, merit pay programs are typically structured to reward teacher behaviors and activities that are believed to be associated with higher student achievement, or to reward outcomes, usually measured by students’ test scores.


Recently, several states have instituted statewide merit pay plans, and the federal government is offering grants to implement such plans. Various districts also have noteworthy merit pay plans. Harris, however, describes a troubled history for merit pay plans, which have surfaced repeatedly over the last century, only to be discontinued over time.


Harris’s policy brief does not endorse any particular compensation system, and it carefully explains each system’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, Harris makes specific recommendations to policy makers interested in restructuring teacher pay systems.


Particularly important, says Harris, is that policy makers must fully account for the inevitable complexity, costs and tradeoffs of any particular compensation system.


The full policy brief is available at


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to identify, develop, support, publish and widely disseminate empirically sound research on education policy and practices designed to improve the quality of public education for all students within the Great Lakes Region. 

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