Across the nation, the concept of merit pay for teachers and principals who help raise student achievement is rapidly gaining political momentum. From California to Virginia, Governors of both political parties have boosted the idea of pay for performance in public education.
Now a decision by key legislators in the congressional appropriations process is raising the likelihood that there will be federal support available for states and school districts that dare to innovate with merit pay instead of sticking with seniority-based systems long insisted upon by teacher unions. The existing scales pay superior and incompetent teachers in lockstep according to years of service.
On June 9, members of the House of Representatives’ Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations
Subcommittee approved $100 million for a teacher merit-pay pilot initiative. The funds would come from an existing pot of money that had been used for a variety of small projects of questionable effectiveness. The measure is part of a $2.9 billion appropriations bill aiding professional development programs in school districts.
The plan, if it becomes law, would become a valuable resource for states seeking to introduce merit pay for teachers and principals. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has such a program currently on the table and is meeting with stiff resistance from the state’s teacher unions, was quick to praise the Congressional plan.
“The federal government is spending tens of billions of dollars a year on K-12 education programs,” noted House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH). “States and schools ought to be allowed to use at least a fraction of that money to provide financial rewards for highly qualified teachers and principals who are working successfully to raise student achievement.”
The appropriations subcommittee’s proposal is a pilot version of a $500 million teacher merit-pay initiative proposed by President Bush in September 2004 as part of his second-term agenda. According to the White House, the program would reward teachers who are top performers in closing the achievement gap between privileged and underprivileged children and in generally meeting the objectives of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The emphasis on student achievement gives added momentum to value-added assessment, a method of evaluating teachers according to how much they help individual students advance year to year. The Teaching Commission, a bipartisan reform organization led by former IBM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., has taken the concept a step further by advocating that top-producing teachers receive substantial bonuses. An April 2005 survey by the Commission indicated that two-thirds of the general public and one-third of teachers supported the concept of teacher pay-for-performance. The Commission endorsed the Schwarzenegger proposal for teacher merit pay earlier this year.
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