McCain, Obama, and Teacher Merit Pay

John McCain will be speaking tonight to the NAACP convention in Cincinnati, where he will reveal an education agenda that focuses on expanding teacher merit pay. The move represents a step away from McCain’s more movement conservative approach to education during the 2000 Republican primary, when he proposed a $5.5 billion, three-year national experiment in private school vouchers. Since then, research from the Milwaukee voucher program, the largest in the nation, has shown that private school vouchers do not increase the academic achievement of low-income and minority students.

(By the way, it was also in front of the NAACP that in 2000, George W. Bush unveiled the campaign platform that became No Child Left Behind, speaking against “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The organization remains supportive of the legislation.)

In related news, Barack Obama, who has been lauded on both the left and right for supporting merit pay, made a careful statement to the American Federation of Teachers yesterday, carving out a position in support of merit pay plans only when teachers are involved in crafting them:

And when our educators succeed, I won’t just talk about how great they are; I will reward them for it. Under my plan, districts will be able to give teachers who mentor, or teach in underserved areas, or take on added responsibilities, or learn new skills to serve students better, or consistently excel in the classroom, the salary increase they deserve. And whether it’s the plans AFT helped create in Cincinnati or Chicago, you’ve shown that it is possible to find new ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them.

The Cincinnati plan Obama mentions uses peer review to allocate teacher merit pay, not student test scores, which would be more controversial. The Chicago plan provides pay incentives for teachers and support staff who work in high poverty schools, but also rewards teachers up to $8,000 for improved student performance over the course of the year.

cross-posted at TAPPED

One thought on “McCain, Obama, and Teacher Merit Pay

  1. William M. Fox

    Placing almost exclusive emphasis upon test-score improvement as a basis for rewarding teachers is patently unfair and, when coupled with inadequate performance-appraisal systems, drives teachers toward unethical behavior or departure to other pursuits.

    A primary reason the public has not been more supportive of higher funding for education has been the poor relationship between better funding and higher educational quality as revealed by a number of studies.

    Use of an appraisal system based upon the following guidelines should go a long way toward turning things around.

    Those associated with schools, need to fairly identify true “stars” and “inadequate performers” as one of the bases for:

    justifying good pay for outstanding teachers,

    providing for self-guidance on the part of newcomers and present staff,

    and providing an important basis for terminating those who cannot, or will not, measure up.

    Research findings show that evaluators achieve much better agreement about who are Stars and Inadequate Performers than they do about who are Average, Above-Average, and Below-Average performers. Yet, placing individuals in the middle-three categories is a time-consuming, often arbitrary, and resentment-causing activity that most evaluators dislike having to do. Also, clearly, an average performer in a superior organization deserves much more recognition than an average performer in an inferior one. No wonder that many teachers and their unions oppose conventional merit-rating systems!

    To avoid a popularity contest, assure greater fairness, and provide for constructive self-guidance, there should be behavioral documentation for both Star and Inadequate Performer nominations via the Critical Incident Technique.
    To lay the groundwork for this, students, parents, veteran administrators, and experienced teachers should be polled at to what specific, observable behaviors they associate with outstanding and inadequate performance for each important aspect of a teacher’s job.

    Then, required behavioral documentation for Star and Inadequate-Performer nominations from fellow teachers, adminstrators, students, and parents should be based upon the most agreed-upon behaviors, and the agreed-to relative weights that should be assigned to these.

    The results of this analysis can also constructively guide the initial training and subsequent selection of teachers, as well as, provide a much-needed, qualifying context for the currently over-stressed evaluation factor of test-score-improvement.

    This approach also sets the stage for more productive review sessions between the rater and ratee. Since the ratee has a sound basis for self-rating, the session should start with the rater asking “How do you rate yourself for this past period through the presentation of relevant, supporting behaviors?” No rater can be all-knowing, so if behaviors are mentioned that she or he is not aware of, the rater can postpone giving his or her evaluation to provide time to check out the validity of the assertions, if this seems necessary.

    A sound behavioral basis for rating also facilitates the use of motivational goal setting during the review session. For example, if the ratee wants to be a Star, what specific behavioral goals does she or he plan to adopt by such and such a time? If stardom is not the goal, which specific, Inadequate Performer behaviors will he or she need to avoid?
    This approach permits a rater to be more of a counselor and coach, than one who appears to sit in arbitrary judgment.

    For discussion of relevant research and related citations, see: “Improving Performance Appraisal Systems” by William M. Fox, NATIONAL PRODUCTIVITY REVIEW, Winter 1987-88, pages 20-27.

    William Fox
    Professor Emeritus
    Department of Management
    University of Florida
    (352) 376-9786


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