Friday, January 19, 2007

Teacher's merit pay

I still have not been able to figure out why the teacher's unions are so "anti-merit" pay.

You would think that improving the education of a child would be a good thing in the eyes of a teacher's union.

The Opinion Journal has a article on teacher's merit pay. As it turns out the "merit pay" program is working in Little Rock.

Is there a bigger scandal in America than the low state of inner-city schools? Oprah Winfrey, utterly frustrated with the problem, last month discussed the $40 million she has spent building the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls--in South Africa. Ms. Winfrey said South African students want to learn, but in U.S. schools, "the sense that you need to learn just isn't there." Where'd it go?

There are multiple-choice answers to that question, and most of them are right. Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York offered one answer in his State of the City speech Wednesday: The desire to learn disappeared down the bottomless well of centralized public-school bureaucracies. Mayor Bloomberg proposed greatly increased autonomy for school principals--one irrefutably proven answer to making a school better. He also wants teachers to prove they deserve tenure, an idea so obvious that it probably has no chance.

One measure of the tenure decision for New York City teachers would be their students' test scores. News accounts said the city teachers' union is "certain to fight" linking test scores to tenure. This, too, is among the multitude of correct answers for why students have no incentive to learn in big-city schools.

Mike Bloomberg, a name difficult to keep out of conversations about national politics, has been known to make visits elsewhere in the country on what we political gamesters would call "exploratory" trips. Let me suggest that the mayor explore a Southern strategy in Little Rock, Ark., where five grade schools are continuing an experiment in linking teacher merit pay to student test scores, first described in this space in October 2005.

That column, "How One School Found a Way to Spell Success," described how teachers at the Meadowcliff School, formerly full of student underachievers, were promised bonuses linked to improvements in the standardized test performance of each student. (The column is available on OpinionJournal here.) The size of the bonus increased relative to the student's year-over-year test gains. A 4% improvement earned a $100 bonus, rising to $400 if the student gained 15% (some did). Everyone in the school was in the bonus plan, including the cafeteria ladies, who started eating with the kids rather than in their own lounge. It worked. Scores improved. Twelve teachers got bonuses from $1,800 to $8,600. The checks were handed out in a public ceremony. Oprah would love Meadowcliff.


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