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Tapping Into What Makes Teachers Tick

Policymakers should focus on creating collaboration, not competition, among teachers, new report says

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Jan. 12, 2012) — Merit pay programs that reward teachers based solely on their students' standardized test scores do little to improve student achievement or help to attract and retain good teachers in high-need areas, according to a new report released today.

"What most teachers desire is the know-how to teach their subjects as well as the autonomy and supports to best meet the needs of their students," according to the report by Barnett Berry, founder and president of the Center for Teaching Quality, and Jonathan Eckert, an education professor at Wheaton College in Illinois and former Teaching Ambassador at the U.S. Department of Education.

Basing teacher bonuses on standardized test scores alone is ineffective in attracting and retaining good teachers. Instead, using teacher compensation strategically and effectively addressing the conditions that the best teachers want and need will go a long way toward supporting their professional activities and retaining them — particularly in high-need schools, according to the report.

Important working conditions go well beyond the issues of time, class size and the length of the workday, according to Berry and Eckert. Policymakers should focus on the conditions that allow teachers to teach effectively, including:

  • Principals who cultivate and embrace teacher leadership
  • Time and tools for teachers to learn from one another
  • Specialized resources for high-need schools, students and subjects
  • The elimination of out-of-field teaching assignments
  • Teaching loads that take the diversity of students into account
  • Leeway to take risks
  • Integration of academic, social and health services for students
  • Safe, well-maintained school buildings

Released in tandem with Berry and Eckert's report is a companion report which takes Berry and Eckert's recommendations and puts them into model legislation. This report is authored by professor Scott R. Bauries of the University of  Kentucky College of Law, whose expertise includes education law and employment law.

Both reports were produced by the National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. In addition, the Ford Foundation provided funding for the policy report, Creating Teacher Incentives for School Excellence and Equity.

Both reports are available at:

They are also available on the NEPC website at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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