The concept of teacher merit pay appeals to our Republican legislature and governor because it makes sense at a surface level, is a neat, simplistic solution easily comprehended by the public, and has the added benefit of weakening the hated teachers’ unions, which are part of the power base of the Democratic Party.
From the teachers’ point of view, there is no allowance made for students’ sheer stupidity, bad luck of the draw in one’s class roster, or working in schools whose families find it more difficult to spare the time to get involved in their children's learning.
It is true that unions are formed in order to collectively assure that workers receive compensation in line with the work they perform. Without unions, each worker must negotiate alone, and historically, that has led to exploitation.
While unions have done much to better the condition of the working class throughout history, a downside is that they become safe havens for underperformers whom the system would otherwise shed for ineptitude. In the case of education, this is not only wasteful, it shortchanges the students.
There is no easy solution to this problem. Merit pay is a blunt instrument, and will probably not lead to any improvement where it matters, with the students. It will, however, lead to a more dispirited and resentful workforce, which could well end up harming them.
We need a more nuanced, intelligent, multifaceted approach. Unfortunately, that isn’t politically expedient.