A thought-provoking comment by Jere Hochman, the remarkable superintendent of the Bedford, New York, school district:

Merit pay existed well before the corporate interest in the ’80s / ’90s, the Governors’ attention in the ’90s, the Federal Intrusion in ’01, and the recent corporate takeover of politicians and state education. (Hopefully an unintended consequence of RTTT).

Several school districts had “merit” pay plans in place in the ’70s and ’80s with at least two presumptions: 1) Motivate and provide incentives (not just monetary) for leadership development, innovation, action-research, and professional growth in areas of interest and school direction. 2) Distinguish compensation for those who “seem” (no data used then) to be teaching at higher levels of proficiency but mostly expertise. Early research was clear on the development of novice vs. expert professionals so in lieu of or complementing the traditional step schedule, raises for continued growth and expertise that gets results.

Sadly, the politicians and state education / corporations have co-opted the model as a fixed pay-for-learning-to-follow-scripts-that-get-results model while stripping the schools of creativity, innovation, and intrinsic motivation. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater (the way we have with just about everything else in education). Teachers are eager. They are on a mission. In spite of the rhetoric, they are not all about unions and raises, and clock-punching – the good ones just depend on the outspoken unions to protect them from unfair practices of the past. (Yes – it’s gone too far in counting minutes and pay-for-everything but there are millions of remarkable teachers in this for children and, yes, a fair wage, benefit, and protection). Teachers are motivated to continue learning and reaching every student – and those who pursue leadership and continued innovation and growth toward expertise should be compensated (again, not for sit-and-get credit workshops and poor online courses).

There was/is/can be great value (and return-on-investments for those who follow that) in “merit pay” but not the way the politicians and corporate quick-fixers are defining it. It’s time to take it all back: curriculum, pedagogy, innovation, bona-fide authentic evaluation, minimal standardized testing and more local authentic assessment, and professional development.