Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Why merit pay for teachers is flawed

Proposing merit pay in secondary education will get you in trouble with the teachers unions. Reformers say that the public school system needs to look to the private sector as a model for educator compensation. Paying for performance it is said gives teachers and administrators incentives to improve student performance and reward teaching excellence.

However, reformers overlook a fatal flaw in comparing schools to businesses. Firms choose who is hired and can readily fire mediocre performers, replacing them with better motivated workers. Public schools have to take all comers and cannot easily rid themselves of students who are lazy or disruptive. Moreover, as long as students receive marginal grades they are permitted to hang around to graduate even if some of them drag down the overall class grade.

Instead of incentivizing teachers to improve their students' grades, why not go directly to students and figure out a way to reward them for high achievement beyond the ubiquitous gold star stickers?