Recently, Vanderbilt studied the effect of teacher bonus pay in Tennessee. It found that awarding bonuses to teachers who produce high results did not improve performance. Opponents of performance pay have been crowing that this shows performance pay doesn't work -- teachers, they say, are already doing their best, so you can't wring better results out of them by dangling bonuses.
Of course, the point of performance pay isn't to wring better results out of the same teaching pool. It's to change the composition of the teaching pool. Teachers tend to come from the lower ranks of college graduates. That's natural, because the profession pays poorly compared with other jobs requiring college degree and does not offer financial rewards for success. The idea of merit pay is that you lure into the profession people who want to be treated like professionals -- they run the risk of being fired if they're incompetent, but they can also earn recognition and higher pay for exceptional performance. That's a long-term process. But it also shows some signs of immediate effect:
What was the immediate effect?
In fact, after D.C. public schools announced a new bonus system, which pays teachers for improvements in test scores, teaching applications soared 300 percent.
This is very typical analysis on education reform from Chait who, it seems, is always in search of some empirical silver bullet in defense of his positions. In the past he pointed to the distribution of Race to the Top funds of prima facie evidence of the effectiveness of school reform. No analysis of outcomes necessary, giving away money to the states is in and of itself demonstrative of the efficacy of the reforms Chait supports. He falls into the same trap today. The measure that Chait himself lays out is that we want the average teacher to come from a higher class ranking. But as evidence that pay for performance will achieve these ends Chait simply cites the fact that pay for performance increases the total number of applicants. It doesn't say a damn thing about the quality of the applicants and, in Chait's world, that doesn't matter.
This is so intellectually sloppy it reads like something Jonah Goldberg would write. Chait is smarter than this and so are his readers.