Research and Commentary: K-12 Teacher Tenure and Merit Pay

Published May 11, 2010

Last week, Florida’s legislature passed landmark legislation to tie teacher compensation to educational outcomes and phase out tenure for K-12 teachers. On April 15, Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill, which would have made all teachers’ contracts only one year in duration and tied renewal and pay increases to students’ test scores.

Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality, who supported the legislation, called the plan “big and bold,” noting teachers could lose certification if their students don’t show learning gains for four or five years (National Public Radio, April 12, 2010,

Crist, a Republican who originally supported the legislation, appeared to give in to teachers union pressure in vetoing the bill.

Merit pay is the norm in the private sector, where wages and prices are set by the market’s determination of the best person for the job. Academic tenure, a concept developed to secure academic independence for professors in a university setting, cannot serve the same quality-control function within the narrow confines of the typical education bureaucracy. Research indicates tenure merely frustrates attempts to remove substandard teachers and replace them with qualified ones.

The following articles and studies consider the use of merit pay for teachers.

Evaluation of Year One of the Achievement Challenge Pilot Project in the Little Rock Public School District
The Little Rock merit pay program (Achievement Challenge Pilot Project, ACPP) showed extra improvement in test scores among students whose teachers were in the program. “Students in schools where the ACPP operated in 2005-06 showed an improvement of 3.5 normal curve equivalent points. For the average student, this gain represents an improvement of nearly 7 percentile points.”

UF Study: Teacher Merit Pay Boosts Student Standardized Test Scores
This article from the University of Florida News quotes UF economics professor David Figlio as follows: “This research provides the first systematic evidence of a relationship between individual teacher performance incentives and student achievement in the United States. We demonstrate that students learn more when teachers are given financial incentives to do a better job.”

Also, “It’s important to note that the form of performance pay we’re looking at is linked to student outcomes rather than principal assessments,” Figlio said. “One reason why performance pay based on principal assessments is not very effective is that principals are under a huge amount of pressure to say that everybody is excellent.”

Teacher Compensation and Teacher Quality
“Linking some part of teacher pay to effectiveness on the job is a necessary reform that would put teachers on a similar footing with other working professionals. We believe that winning public support for higher salaries (which teachers and their representatives strongly advocate) requires pay systems that reflect teachers’ success in improving student outcomes.”

The following articles and studies offer evidence regarding K-12 teacher tenure and student outcomes.

The Hidden Cost of Tenure
This blockbuster series of investigative reports exposes the financial costs of tenure: “Combine teacher tenure, softball evaluations and a reluctance to use remediation with underperforming teachers and you get a dysfunctional system. Kids are paying the price.”

Fixing Tenure—A Proposal for Assuring Teacher Effectiveness and Due Process
“The initial impulse for developing tenure laws was to protect teachers from unfair dismissal, but today there is concern that tenure laws are anachronistic and create more problems than they solve. Many education policymakers now believe that civil rights legislation passed over the last half century protects teachers from unfair dismissal, making tenure laws obsolete. They further claim that tenure laws do not assure quality teaching and often lead to unnecessary complications in dismissing veteran teachers who are ineffective.”

For further information on this subject, visit the School Reform News Web site at

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, you may contact Bruno Behrend, director of the Center for School Reform at The Heartland Institute, at 312-377-4000 or [email protected].