A new study shows that merit-based pay for teachers can improve student test scores, The Washington Times reports. The Achievement Challenge Pilot Project (ACPP) covered five schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Teachers could earn as much as an $11,000 bonus based on how much their students’ test scores improved.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas report: “Students of teachers who are eligible for performance bonuses enjoy academic benefits. Further, many of the criticisms of merit pay programs simply have not proven true in Little Rock.”

Teachers didn’t report any of the problems that opponents have predicted would result from performance pay: a divisive school atmosphere, neglect of low-performing students, and favoritism.

Some Members of Congress are considering including performance pay in legislation to renew the No Child Left Behind Act. But it would be a mistake for Washington to begin setting pay policies for the country’s 15,000 school districts. The ACPP was a state-conceived initiative. The best way to encourage innovative policies is by reducing the federal role in education. States and local communities would then have more flexibility to experiment with new approaches.

After all, arguments against performance pay have some merit. Conceivably, a principal could show favoritism toward a teacher who happens to be his golfing buddy. Any reform has to be designed and implemented in a way that avoids those problems, and there is no reason to believe that Washington is best suited for the task.

Almost every business in the private sector has found a way to evaluate, pay, and promote employees based on their individual performance. Their motivation in doing so is direct accountability to investors and shareholders. Likewise, state officials and local school boards are better positioned to design effective, innovative education policies because they are more directly accountable to parents and taxpayers.