To the Editor:
In response to the March 29, 2006, Commentary by Theodore Hershberg and Barbara Lea-Kruger on linking teacher pay to student learning (“Aligning the System”):
Can you imagine merit pay for doctors? We could pay them based on how much their patients improved. Under this plan, however, what doctor would take patients with the most difficult prognoses?
Teachers are in much the same situation. How can parameters be drawn that account for a child’s family background, which the Commentary’s authors admit is the most important influence in academic achievement? How can parameters be drawn for students who regress over the summer while others, thanks to their family situations, progress?
The real beneficiaries of “merit pay” should be children and families. They are the ones whom schools should serve and reward.
We all know, for example, that early-childhood education improves academic outcomes, reduces crime, and has a tremendous return on investment for society. So, how do we create a generation of reading-ready 1st graders? Why not through an incentive such as the provision of individual college accounts?
Incentives are used by government to attract businesses to certain locales. They are used by businesses to create excitement and interest about a product. As research tells us, the carrot works better than the stick. Isn’t it about time we rewarded those whose involvement is most important to a successful education system?
Incentives work. Let’s set up an experiment and see whom they work better for, teachers or students.
A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as Pay for Performance? Yes, But for Families