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Research Mixed On Merit-Pay For Teachers

February 14, 2012, 5:56 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Research Mixed On Merit-Pay For Teachers
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposal to dole out bonuses to top teachers in the state has created controversy at the state capitol this year.

South Dakota isn't alone; several states are considering new merit-pay programs for teachers right now including Missouri and New Jersey.

Many other states and large school districts have already tested programs like this.

A recent National Governor's Association report on six states that have tried performance pay for teachers found that the programs had mixed results.

A study done in Israel on teacher bonuses showed there was improvement in student achievement.

That conflicting information is why there is so much debate over South Dakota's plan.

South Dakota classrooms could now be the latest testing-ground for bonus-based teacher pay plans and ending teacher tenure.

Rick Melmer, the Dean of the University Of South Dakota School Of Education, says plans similar to the one being considered by the South Dakota Legislature are sweeping the country.

"If you pick up any sort of news media on compensation, it's not uncommon to read about a state that's looking at some sort of performance-based compensation," Melmer said.

Despite many states and school districts trying out a merit-pay system for teachers, opponents say it has never been successful.

"There's not a single success story out there where it has actually worked," President of the Sioux Falls Education Association Deb Merxbauer said.

Merxbauer says merit-pay programs in schools have failed in Chicago, Nashville and New York.

Florida has also passed legislation that would eliminate tenure and pay teachers based on performance; that legislation is now tied up in a lawsuit.

"That's our concern that we're putting a lot of money into a concept that has been proven over and over again, dating back to 18th century England, that hasn't worked," Merxbauer said.

Melmer says other states have been too quick to set up their programs.

Under the South Dakota plan, officials would take nearly three years to establish the teacher-assessment system.

Also, Melmer says South Dakota's program is a bonus system giving extra pay on top of normal salaries, which isn't what other states have done.

"I think that's why it has a chance to be successful because people still have their foundational pay in place and this can be above and beyond compensation for teachers that are doing a good job," Melmer said.

And helping teachers do a better job in South Dakota's classroom is the focus of this debate; something both sides can agree on.

South Dakota's bill passed the House of Representatives Monday and is now headed to the Senate.

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