In Maryland, developing a new compensation system for teachers and principals was a major recommendation of the Governor's Commission on Quality Education, a high-profile task force led by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.
Steele's report, issued a year ago, said teachers should be paid "according to their subject expertise, their demonstrated effectiveness, and the challenges of staffing particular schools."
It remains to be seen whether Maryland's incentive program would provide extra money for teachers who go to tough schools. Grasmick and Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, expressed interest in including such a provision. The strategy was used this year to attract qualified teachers to Baltimore County's low-performing Woodlawn Middle School, which offered $5,000 signing bonuses.
In Anne Arundel County, then-Superintendent Eric J. Smith instituted a program in 2004 giving $1,500 to teachers to work in schools that had not made adequate progress on state tests and $1,500 more if their students then made adequate progress. But the program proved too costly to sustain - a potential pitfall, experts say, in any teacher incentive program.
"The recessions always hurt these programs so much," said Gale Gaines, vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board, a group working on school reform in 16 states, including Maryland.
Gaines and other experts suggested several features that make some incentive pay programs more successful than others. They said the programs can only be successful if teachers perceive them as fair. That means teachers need to be involved in developing the programs, and decisions about who gets what rewards should be based on multiple measures.
In addition, incentives should be tied to broader school reform, providing teachers with opportunities for professional development, said Ben Schaefer, a program manager at the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. And it is best when incentives are available to all, not just a select few.
"If it becomes a cutthroat kind of program where teachers are competing against each other, it tends to be a lot less successful than if the money is available to everyone," Schaefer said.
Linda Eberhart, a fifth-grade teacher at Baltimore's Mount Royal Elementary/Middle and a former state teacher of the year, said collaboration with other teachers has been the key to her success in the classroom. Because of that, she opposes merit pay.
"It's always the group of teachers when students achieve," she said. "My students at Mount Royal have achieved not just solely because of me. It's because of the spiral effect of having one good teacher after another."
Grasmick countered that an incentive program does not have to discourage teachers from working together.
"There's a way of doing this that's extremely fair," she said, "and it elevates the profession."
Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.