And they’re off! It started before the session when Governor Brownback said he wanted teacher merit pay in any new school finance system. It was ratcheted up a notch when House Education Chairman Ron Highland (R-Wamego) went on television to say merit pay for teachers is easy to figure out. Well, what he actually said is “I can walk in any school and talk to the janitor and I can tell you who the best teacher is in every school; they all know.”

The legislature is wasting no time in pushing the issue. Yesterday during a presentation to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees by Commissioner Randy Watkins and SBOE Member Jim McNiece, Senator Jeff Melcher (R-Leawood) pressed the issue. McNiece responded, telling Melcher that Kansas needs to address the overall compensation levels in the profession. He warned that raising the pay of some teachers without addressing overall compensation first would create morale problems. “What you’re going to do is make it worse,” he said. “It’s going to be throwing gasoline on the fire.”

Watson and McNiece both told the Committees that the perception among teachers that they aren’t valued is a significant problem. McNiece went on to say that Kansans need to “change the conversation about teachers and what they do, and recognize how hard they work and applaud them first.”

The evidence is clear that merit pay doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work in the private sector either. There is plenty of research demonstrating that for professional jobs requiring cognitive skills, creativity, and problem solving, merit pay or pay for performance schemes actually harm productivity.

Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explores research done by economists for the Federal Reserve and the London School of Economics that clearly shows the harm done by pay for performance plans. Pink explores this in a TED Talk that you can view by clicking here.

Now, in fast tracking the idea, Chairman Highland this morning announced an informational hearing on the issue to be held when the legislature reconvenes on Tuesday. KNEA will be there to testify.