Merit pay is controversial, especially when tied to student test scores. But if you really want to engulf the teacher lounges in acrimony, make the list of individual bonus winners (and losers) public for all the world to see. That's what Houston did, and now districts in Florida are pondering whether, due to a combination of the state's new STAR plan and its longstanding sunshine laws, they will need to do the same. A blunt-speaking union official made this prediction about what will happen if they do: "On Day 1, you're going to publish the 2,100 people in Pinellas County who got the money." And on day two, "the excrement will hit the rotary." Parents, on the other hand, will get valuable information about the performance of their child's teachers--information that no doubt will place the most effective instructors in high demand (how to deal with that demand is another issue). Some teachers who can't stand the heat will get out of the kitchen; the kitchen will be better for it. But it's unclear how the state's elaborate but imperfect bonus system will weather the harsh glare of public attention, and whether the new governor will support it (initial signs are promising). Of course, there's another way to reward great teachers without all the combustion: give principals the discretion to quietly award bonuses to their top performers, based mostly on student test-score gains, as most managers in America can do. Same result, less drama.
"How good is teacher? Bonus plan may tell," by Ron Matus, St. Petersburg Times, February 3, 2007