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