Today, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post has an editorial simultaneously praising the New Teacher Project report called “The Irreplaceables” (those fabulous young teachers who know how to raise test scores [in one year] but are leaving the classroom) and the Roland Fryer study on loss aversion. The Post says that if New York City took Fryer’s recommendation, paid $4,000 upfront to teachers, and then took it away if the scores don’t go up, that would be a huge improvement in holding onto the “irreplaceables” while raising test scores.

Whew. The city has been cutting schools’ budgets, yet now it is going to come up with millions to try the latest Fryer scheme? Right.

How soon they forget. The city blew away $56 million on merit pay between 2007-2010 and a RAND report said it was a bust, and the city abandoned it. Undaunted,  Mayor Bloomberg proposed another merit pay plan, this one for $20,000 for higher scores. Now maybe he will go for Fryer’s loss aversion scheme.

Merit pay has been tried again and again for nearly 100 years and has never worked, but now Fryer and his colleagues believe they have found the secret sauce. Give the money upfront, then take it away. Sounds easy, no?

Hope springs eternal, especially where merit pay is concerned. Offer a prize and scores will go up, but they don’t. Now, offer a prize and take it away if the scores don’t go up. That’s Fryer’s latest plan.

Barnett Berry says that Roland Fryer should give back his pay. Berry says “loss aversion” is a lot of hooey. It seems that it was piloted first in a Chinese factory, where productivity went up by 1%. Berry has a better idea: Why not do what we know will work in the classroom, why not follow well-grounded research and give up the elusive search for the incentive–the carrot–that will make teachers produce? Berry writes:

Other studies have shown that teachers are more effective when they loop with their students for more than one year, when they teach the same course (in secondary school) for more than one year, when they have high-quality curriculum materials, and when they work with a team to plan curricula and evaluate student work. All these factors contribute far more to effective teaching than the loss-aversion merit pay schemes posed by this study.

More questions arise about how Fryer’s scheme would work in reality: Would districts have to hire more bureaucrats to collect the dollars awarded to teachers when test scores did not increase? How would such a pay scheme affect teacher morale? What about the impact on collaboration, given that the authors’ statistical model promotes competition among teachers?

Economists like Fryer and company—and their funders—are desperate to find some kind of empirical link between short-term test score gains and teacher pay (or firings). The researchers found a model—based on a Chinese factory where “loss” workers saw only a 1 percent increase in productivity—and decided to use it in such a complex enterprise as teaching.

Just think. All those Absent Teacher Reserve Teachers (ATR), displaced when the mayor closed their schools, could work as money-collectors, taking back the pay from teachers who couldn’t get scores to go up.