Executives get bonuses when their companies excel, so why not give teachers a bump in pay when their students do the same?

Support for teacher merit pay has traditionally existed in business circles, but a new cadre of educators and policy makers are opening up to financial incentives for teacher performance. Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama advocated for it when speaking at the National Education Association's annual convention last month; a bipartisan trio of senators has introduced legislation that would include incentives (federal grant funding) for states to look at performance-pay programs to attract teachers to low-performing schools (see here); and a reform-minded coalition of local teachers unions-which includes Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo in the Buckeye State-advocates for alternative models of teacher compensation, including merit pay (see here).

But as with most education reform efforts, the devil is in the details. The design and implementation of a performance-rewards system is vital to its success.

Florida's failed STAR (Special Teachers are Rewarded) plan and withering MAP (Merit Award Pay) program failed to get teacher buy in during the planning process and were hastily enacted. On the other hand, a pilot merit-pay program in Austin, Texas is being rolled out slowly and evaluated along the way, and the teachers' union there sees it as a way for great teachers to earn what they deserve. In Minnesota, districts are taking advantage of their state's official encouragement to consider teacher merit-pay plans.

Education is not a business, but there are some corporate-world practices that can be adapted for schools. A well-designed merit-pay system for teachers is one of them.

"Merit pay gaining bipartisan favor in federal arena," by Vaishali Honawar, Education Week, August 1, 2007.

"Teachers say yes to pay tied to scores," by Nancy Zuckerbrod, of the Associated Press, Boston Globe, August 18, 2007.

"Teachers slam state merit-pay program," by Erika Hobbs, Orlando Sentinel, August 20, 2007.


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