Thursday, February 10, 2005

California Revolution - It's about time for Pay-for-Performance

California Revolution (washingtonpost.com):

"One initiative would empower school districts to award teachers merit pay based on performance as the districts decide to measure that. Merit pay pits Schwarzenegger against the 335,000-member California Teachers Association and other teachers unions. "


It's about time that someone gives some serious attention to pay-for-performance for teachers, but this in only one step in a transformative process.

My sister is in education, like most of family, and we talk about this all the time. It's about time to treat teachers like professionals - same as doctor, lawyers, and engineers. This will bring prestige into the field and attract new people into the profession. With the prestige comes pressure to deliver, but delivery should also include financial rewards.

This isn't a fight that teachers unions should be engaged in, but it doesn't obviate the role and importance of a teachers' union. First, in states like North Carolina, teacher salaries are an embarassment - no wonder, there's no union here. Of course, there's also a teacher shortage here. A teacher's union insures a minimum salary floor. High floor, more people want to join the profession, and a much larger pool from which to draw the most talented becomes available.

The second role of the teachers' union - screening talent and enforcing standards. Professional educators, not legislators or bureaucrats, should be determining the standards of education and measuring the capability of educators. In a partnership with the public, unions can adopt rigid standards and give themselves a strong leg to stand when arguing for a high salary floor.

Finally, hold legislators feet to the fire. If the teachers' union leads the charge for accountability and maintains rigid standards for entry into the field, they serve as force to make sure legislators live up to their end of the bargain - funding for minimum salaries and pay-for-performance. If the teachers' union slips in performance, they can't argue for more money, but if they're the driving force behind good education and they still don't get the resources they need or deserve, a strike is well-warranted.

The union shouldn't fight pay-for-performance, it should lead the charge, but it still can and should play an important role in public education. Unlike a business, good performance doesn't insure cashflow, so the union has to keep the legislature honest and not allow them to decide tax cuts or roads are a reason to shirk an obligation to funding quality education. It can also provide the leadership on issues of education like the AMA does for medicine in areas like testing, vouchers, and other related things that are best served by people "in the know", not politicians.

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