Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Democratic Presidential debate broadcast this morning by ABC television and moderated by George Stephanopoulos and the very sharp David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register yielded a few good questions and some lively disagreement. One of the best questions, I believe, was the following from Yepsen (addressed initially to Senator Dodd):
"I want to ask you about performance-based pay. Should more effective teachers be paid more than less effective ones?"
Mike Gravel responded in the affirmative, Dennis Kucinich prattled on and never answered, and John Edwards was not asked. Barack Obama, however, advocated "a performance-based system that teachers buy into," while eschewing one imposed upon a school district, or one imposed by a school district upon the teachers' union and the employees it represents.
Hillary Clinton nee Rodham Clinton supported "incentive pay for school-wide performance." This presumes, apparently, a)there is an accurate means to determine how well a school is performing which, inadvertently, No Child Left Behind has demonstrated may not exist; and b)if valid criteria for determining a school's performance can be achieved, inefficient and ineffective Teacher X should be rewarded because of the effectiveness of the other teachers (or effective Teacher Y should be denied reward because of the ineffectiveness of the teachers at his/her school). (Mrs. Clinton did, wisely, avoid the temptation to endorse the Bush Administration's failed education program.)
But there were a few more thoughtful responses. Bill Richardson recommended a "minimum wage for teachers" and scrapping the No Child Left Behind Act. Chris Dodd urged that teachers be paid more for working in certain rural or urban areas, apparently those which are most needy and likely to be underserved. And Joe Biden opened by noting that his wife is a veteran teacher and argued there "needs to be performance-based pay"- except that his characterization was rather unconventional. He suggested "paying the best performing students who want to teach and give them a chance," asserting a community should "pay those people who perform in undergraduate school, give them an alternative... to get the same pay an engineer gets." These are original ideas, if nothing else. I've never heard anyone suggest that colleges (in the form of the grades given out) should be given veto power over the pay of a teacher in a school district. And as for paying teachers the same as engineers, I'm not sure even many teachers would find that realistic.
But the Senator was right on target with another remark: "And the one thing any teacher can tell you is that the last person you want to base your performance, judge your performance, is the administrator of a school." Which is about all you need to know about the viability of "performance pay" or "merit pay." And why the best response to the question was included in Senator Dodd's answer: "no."

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