Merit Pay Fray in Denver

When the Democratic Party arrives in Denver on Aug. 25, they'll be visiting the school district that is home to the most famous teacher merit pay experiment in the nation, ProComp. Merit pay, of course, is just one of many education reform tools, but it has taken on a sort of talismanic quality in some circles, with supporters equating sympathy for aggressive merit pay programs with a commitment to reform itself, and opposition or even caution toward merit pay as the cardinal sin of edu-wonkery. Wouldn't it be dramatic, then, if the Denver teachers' union were to strike during the Democratic convention over a planned expansion of their merit pay program, forcing national Democrats to consider and maybe even take a stance on the issue?

Yes. And as the Denver Post reports, a strike is a possibility. On Aug. 20, the teachers' union and district will enter into three days of negotiation on the new contract, which will end just as convention activities begin. At The Quick and the Ed, Chad Aldeman has a good rundown of what's at stake; it seems to be a relatively good plan offering higher starting salaries for new teachers and bonuses for those who choose hard-to-staff schools and subjects, or who work in buildings that have demonstrated school-wide achievement gains. Teachers hired before 2006 will have the option of whether to participate in the new or old compensation plan, but under the new plan, all but 16 of the district's nearly 4,500 teachers will get a raise.

What's not to like? A proposal to allow each principal to award one teacher with a $2,900 bonus each year. The union is calling this the "pet teacher project."

Still, several hundred Denver teachers are opposed to a strike, especially during the media rush of convention week. They've started an organization called Denver Teachers for Change, which they stress is not anti-union, but simply opposed to the union's current leadership and agenda. This will be an interesting story to watch as we approach the convention, not least because Barack Obama's stated position on merit pay plans is that he supports them only when teachers' union are involved in their drafting and implementation.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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