Fryer cites that the merit pay scheme likely failed because of the complexities involved with defining achievement.
Even when people are happy to artificially define achievement as "make scores rise on standardized tests", the complexities of good teaching and real learning are inescapable. Even if we were comfortable with marrying student achievement to test scores, merit pay is a failure even when held to this crappy criteria.
Because of these complexities, it simply won't do any longer to use a person's position on teacher merit pay as the litmus test for their reform credentials. Merit pay remains just as bad of an idea today as it was 100 years ago. I find it sadly ironic that "school reformers" today tend to see merit pay as a courageous move forward when really it is an instrument for solidifying the status quo, and the last thing we need is more of the same.
Roland Fryer is right that the complexities of merit pay schemes are dizzying to even those who design them. Alfie Kohn explains in his landmark article The Folly of Merit Pay:
It may be vanity or, again, myopia that persuades technicians, even after the umpteenth failure, that merit pay need only be returned to the shop for another tuneup. Perhaps some of the issues mentioned here can be addressed, but most are inherent in the very idea of paying educators on the basis of how close they've come to someone's definition of successful performance. It's time we acknowledged not only that such programs don't work, but that they can't work.
Furthermore, efforts to solve one problem often trigger new ones. Late-model merit-pay plans often include such lengthy lists of criteria and complex statistical controls that no one except their designers understand how the damn things work.
So how should we reward teachers? We shouldn't. They're not pets. Rather, teachers should be paid well, freed from misguided mandates, treated with respect, and provided with the support they need to help their students become increasingly proficient and enthusiastic learners.
Ideally, we need to spend less time thinking of school reform as a "teacher problem" and more of a "system problem". The problems plaguing public education have less to do with bribing teachers to get high scores on bad tests and more to do with the system's unreasonable standards and accountability regimes.
The more time and effort we spend trying to get teachers to raise test scores, the less time we spend creating and implementing the schools our children deserve.