The notion of paying teachers more for doing a better job is gaining ground because of Republican pressure and a push by the teachers unions.
Already a few states, counties and cities have begun bonus plans tied largely to improved student performance. And in Florida this summer, the 67 school districts along with local unions are scrambling to meet a requirement that part of teachers' salary increase be based on merit in the coming school year."We fully believe that some people will do a wonderful job and others will create a sham" and flout the Legislature's intent, said Frank Brogan, a Republican commissioner of education in Florida who is Jeb Bush's running mate for governor.
The GOP has raised the teacher pay issue this election year, along with challenges to tenure and criticism of teacher quality. Some union leaders support changes as a way to keep teachers in the classroom while giving them more professional status.
But the notion also has critics - including others in teachers unions - who cite past abuses of merit pay and say competition is bad for school morale. Merit pay also costs money. Florida tried it in the early 1980s but gave up when the price tag soared.
Even an advocate like Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., co-sponsor of a bill in Congress, acknowledges the fear that merit pay means only the "principal's pet" will be rewarded.
"You've got to do it in such a way that it is open, that it is based on a fair evaluation," D'Amato said.
Anne S. Froelich, a teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio, remembers all too well how, 17 years ago, one teacher became teacher of the year at her school. "She slept in her class, but she cooked for the principal, and she sewed for her and she drove because the principal didn't drive," said Froelich.
Froelich recently voted against a Cincinnati plan to pay teacher bonuses based on a school's performance. It would have considered student scores on standard tests, dropout and attendance rates, and teachers' attendance.