Like It Matters
Our focus should not be on the pay—but on the way in which
rethinking pay can help districts attract and deploy effective educators.
Frederick M. Hess
Question: Do you think that employees who are good at their work ought to be rewarded, rec- ognized, and have the chance to step up into new opportunities and responsibilities? I do. If you’re with me on this, you embrace the
principle of merit pay—whether you know it or not.
Because, although we all have that childhood friend or
distant cousin who lives on a commune somewhere and
inveighs against the evils of bourgeois materialism, most of
us think it makes sense for a talented, hardworking engineer,
dentist, accountant, or babysitter to be rewarded for his or her
There are two crucial provisos here. First, endorsing this
principle doesn’t mean signing on to the raft of slack-jawed
merit-pay proposals that would-be reformers have championed in recent years. Merit pay is only useful if it’s done
smart, which entails using it to help attract, retain, and make
full use of talented educators.
Second, understand that there’s no proof that rewarding
talented, hardworking folks “works.” You can comb
through decades of economics journals and issues of the
Harvard Business Review without finding any proof that
paying and promoting good employees yields good results.
The premise just seems like a reasonable assumption; you