The merit-based pay idea is among the most powerful and controversial of these reformist proposals. Yet, consider: there is a solid opportunity for soldiers to move up in the military ranks, if they show themselves to be highly effective. This is in direct opposition to the Teachers' Union approach, which attempts to reward seniority alone, with no accounting for efficiency... effectively flattening out the whole system of compensation in public schooling.
Mr. Eggers' evidence makes this clear, as well. Discussing what he sees as tragically low pay for teachers, he notes that teacher salaries start at $39,000 and max out at $69,000. Now, the base starting salary for American jobs is around $40K, so that $39K starting salary really doesn't sound too bad, when you consider the summers off, strong federal benefits, and stuff like that. But then you look at the $69K end of the spectrum — really? That's the most you can work up to? — and you realize that it's not the raw compensation that's the problem. It's lack of mobility, and lack of intelligent distribution of those salaries. As Mr. Eggers says, there's a massive turnover within the first five years... about the amount of time it takes these new teachers to realize their high-pressure job has no long-term opportunity for growth or attainment.
Again, this is precisely what the merit-pay systems of (for instance) Michelle Rhee were intended to solve.
Mr. Eggers massively oversimplifies this problem. His editorial seems to suggest that the American government just massively short-changes its educational system (thus, the tired, but accidentally instructive, "what if the army had to hold a bake sale?" analogy). This may seem a little confusing when you look at certain numbers, which make it clear that the US actually does a decent job of funding its education system. Check out this chart... the US spends an average of $10,000 per child, which puts us above pretty much all the other developing countries, except for Luxemborg (?).
Source: "Education at a Glance 2010: OECD Indicators", see www.oecd.org/edu/eag2010
So the problem obviously isn't mere volume — it's efficiency. We have one of the lowest rates of attainment given our expenditure on education. And this lack of efficiency is because in our country, there is a deficiency in information. The system for distributing teacher pay is parasitic — schools are so heavily funded by local property taxes that they only pay what their locality can afford. Poor areas get poor teachers, wealthy areas get decent teachers, and the problem gets more entrenched. There's no internal logic, no flow of information, no apparatus for evaluating and tweaking the way the money gets around. Evaluations and standardized tests are one way of collecting information; standards (i.e. baselines) are a way of organizing that information; merit-based pay and teacher redistribution are ways of acting upon it. These are the tools of the reformer.