Just wanted to bring your attention to a great new piece by Hannah Sternberg at The Weekly Standard on the politics of merit pay, a topic all too near to my heart.
Most of the article explores a proposal by the reform-minded chancellor of Washington, D.C. Public Schools – Michelle Rhee – and how it’s being received in this dysfunctional, bureaucratic education system. But the article also takes a peek at events surrounding Denver’s groundbreaking ProComp teacher pay program, including a mention of the recent tensions that have resulted in strike threats.
Denver’s plan is new enough that even as negotiations are scheduled to reopen it’s difficult to judge its success and make plans for improvement. Mike Antonucci, an education expert based in California, believes that school districts suffer from a lack of information concerning other merit pay programs across the country and their results. If Barack Obama and John McCain really do favor merit pay, they could draw attention to these unfolding stories, especially the ambitious proposal in the nation’s capital.
As the Rocky Mountain News pointed out last month, Denver’s innovative teacher pay program has disappeared from Barack Obama’s stump speeches:
Obama, meanwhile, no longer refers to ProComp.
In November, in a speech outlining his education platform, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee praised “cities like Denver” that have “proven by working with teachers . . . we can find new ways to increase pay.”
In May, after learning of stalled talks, Obama noted that “teachers in Denver are in the middle of tough negotiations right now” but said the city has “already proven” there are new ways to increase pay.
In fact, during that May speech made at a Denver-area school, Barack Obama passed up the chance to make the case for real improvements in teacher quality and other effective education reforms. The way he tiptoed around the ongoing contract negotiations suggested a continuing deference to labor interests.
While the dynamics are slowly shifting, and Obama has made advances by calling for performance-based teacher compensation, the national Democratic Party still has a ways to go in getting out from under the shadow of the teachers union.