News Story

While Schools Ignore Merit Pay Law, State Has No Authority to Enforce It

Most districts pay based strictly on seniority and degree-level

Many public school districts have refused to reward its best teachers with "merit pay" in the five years since a state law was passed mandating the practice. That's in part because the Michigan Department of Education doesn't track whether the practice is followed and has no authority to enforce the law.

In 2010, motivated in part by the promise of competitive grants attached to the federal education reform initiative known as Race to the Top, the Michigan Legislature passed a law requiring all school districts to implement some form of merit pay system for teachers. Specifically, legislation signed by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm requires school districts to include job performance and accomplishments "as a significant factor” in teacher pay decisions.

But several school districts have acknowledged in emails to Michigan Capitol Confidential that they have not complied. The Michigan Department of Education has acknowledged that it does not track school districts' compliance with the law. Martin Ackley, spokesman for the MDE, said the law doesn’t give the state any enforcement authority. Ackley said neither the merit pay law nor the school funding law provides any specific penalty or consequence to a district that ignores the merit pay law.

“Based on our research, school districts have, by and large, decided not to reward great teachers, even though state law clearly requires it,” said Michael Van Beek, the director of research at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “If policymakers want to encourage more great teachers, they will need to add punitive measures for violating the law so that districts can’t keep ignoring it.”

Without a merit pay system in place, school districts continue to pay teachers based on the number of years they’ve been employed in the district and the number of academic credentials they’ve accumulated.

It’s a system that is essentially modeled on compensation models used in industrial-era assembly lines. As a result, there can be highly effective teachers working alongside much less effective teachers who are paid thousands of dollars more just because they have more years on the job and have accumulated more academic credit hours.

New State Superintendent Brian Whiston says he favors of merit pay.

“Pay should be based on what you are teaching (subject), your evaluation, years of service, education, what extras you bring to the position (extra training, certifications, experiences),” Whiston said in an email in June. “I would like to also look at incentives for teachers that teach in certain areas of the state. I think that teachers who do a great job (get a years or more of growth) should receive additional compensation. If that is what is meant as merit pay then yes I support it.”

Ironically, Michigan’s response to the federal Race to the Top grant program was not deemed sufficient to earn the state any of those extra federal dollars.


See also:

Of Course Merit Pay Is a Good Idea

School District Sees Success Through Merit Pay

Union Wants High Quality Teachers but Doesn't Want to Pay Them