In his first major speech on education, Obama said the United States must drastically improve student achievement to regain lost international standing.I am--gulp--a union member who sees room in educational compensation for merit pay. I know this means coming out of a closet of sorts, but if research connects teacher quality to student achievement, and teacher longevity to competitive compensation, then some reasonable form of merit pay combines the best of both worlds.
"The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens," he said. "We have everything we need to be that nation ... and yet, despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us."
His solutions include teacher pay and charter school proposals that have met resistance among members of teachers unions, which constitute an important segment of the Democratic Party.
What I haven't seen is a merit pay scheme that is truly fair. I can't see any worthwhile use of test scores. For example, as a high school teacher with two vastly different sets of classes--say, two periods Remedial Math and three periods AP Calculus--then roughly 60% of my performance is not directly comparable to the other 40%. Furthermore, I'm standing on the shoulders--or running with the parachutes--of 10 or more elementary and middle school teachers.
Show me a sophisticated metric to fairly compensate performance, Obama team, and I'll be on board.
Until then, I'll remain cautious, optimistic, and--yep--hopeful.
(Charter schools? Evidence of their success is pretty thin. But I'm open to persuasion.)