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Economic incentives? Sounds good, but ...

Performance-based pay boosters must be disappointed by this news. The Chicago Teacher Advancement Program is showing no effect in raising achievement in math or reading. Likewise, it's showing no effect in increasing teacher retention rates in schools.

Free-market disciples desperately want to believe that merit-based pay is the key to reforming education. But this analysis suggests that's not the case for Chicago Public Schools and, I suspect, for any schools.

My theory is that basic economic principles don't apply perfectly to public education because money isn't the motivation for most educators. I suspect the same would apply to social workers or clergy. Certainly, everyone wants to be fairly and adequately compensated, but I believe educators derive job satisfaction from more than their paychecks.

Some are theorizing that the size of the payouts in the Chicago program limits its effectiveness. Maybe. But that begs a bigger question: If it requires increased salaries to improve schools, will taxpayers be willing to pay?

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at