[caption id="attachment_88954" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Merit pay for teachers is a controversial policy that is part of the Obama administration's education agenda."][/caption]

Fifth-grade teacher Louineze Mertil did not know why she was called to Miami Beach Senior High School on Oct. 3.

She soon found out: to pick up a $4,000 check for her students' work at Phyllis Ruth Miller Elementary.

Mertil was among 120 top-ranked teachers who received big checks -- some large enough to buy a new car -- in a surprise ceremony, wrapping up the Miami-Dade school district's first step into performance pay.

"I...

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