The past few years have seen waves of new ideas in education reform: charter schools, new methods of teacher training, new testing, and merit pay, to name a few. Activists line up behind their preferred solutions, and then politicians from Barack Obama to Bobby Jindal jump on one or more of these bandwagons. But the bandwagons, in many cases, have rushed out way ahead of the science.Merit pay, in particular, may not be all it’s cracked up to be. The Washington Post examined this problem in a recent profile of Dan Pink, a high-profile critic of the recent push for merit-based teacher pay:
Tangible, extrinsic rewards can dampen intrinsic motivation, Pink said, noting that these findings have been repeated in dozens of experiments over the decades. “The science on this is robust,” he said. “And it’s also among the most ignored.” […]Pink thinks there’s nothing wrong with paying teachers more. In fact, all teachers should earn more, he said, so they don’t abandon teaching for financial reasons.“It’s not that money doesn’t matter,” Pink said. “It’s that the best use of money is to get people to stop thinking about money.”
These arguments make sense. Though justice and common sense say that bad teachers shouldn’t get the same rewards as good ones, those who look to merit pay to solve everything that ails American education will surely be disappointed. The problems with American education are broad and varied, and there are no silver bullets.