Monday, October 15, 2007

John Edwards' smart school ideas

I apologize for my long absence and thank the smart posters who have been looking at Edwards recently. His stumbles on rural school statistics are embarrassing, but he remains the most intelligent candidate in the field when talking about how to improve schools. That does not mean that all of his proposals make sense. Like every national politician, he has to cater to some interest groups for whom good policies spell reduced influence. But as he did four years ago, Edwards is staying ahead of the pack, at least when it comes to thinking about education.
What impresses me most about the proposals he made in Des Moines last month is his take on the merit pay issue. The fact that he addresses it at all wins points with me. Some candidates think (wrongly) that the teachers unions just won't stand for merit pay, and so shy away. Edwards goes one very big step further by recognizing that the sort of individual rewards that some candidates support are unlikely to work in a well run school. In a poorly run school, it may make sense to reward your best teachers with some extra money to persuade them to stick around until somebody can find a good principal to match their good efforts with good support. But if a school is really going to soar, and raise the achievement level of nearly every child, it needs a team spirit, and Edwards' proposal recognizes that.
He wants to raise pay for teachers in succcessful (note that very important word) high-poverty schools by up to $15,000 a year. The first $5,000 would be for veteran teachers who mentored new teachers. This is fine, although his press release does not make it clear that this money would only go to such mentors in schools that have shown success. The second $5,000 would go to teachers who earned their National Board certification. This is also okay, since all teachers have a shot at the year-long certification process, but again the press release does not specify if the school would have to reach a certain level for them to get the money.
The impressive part of this merit pay plan comes with the third $5,000, which would go to every single teacher in "high poverty schools with high academic performance, good student behavior, and high parent satisfaction." There are a few schools like that in nearly every big city in America right now. Most of them are small charters. They don't get that much attention, but that extra money would help them recruit more good teachers and inspire more organizations to create such schools, or persuade public school systems to find smart, tough principals willing to create such schools as part of their districts.
It is a smart idea that should win support from many union members, since a team approach is what unionism is all about. Republicans so far are too stuck on the individualized approach--more money for every teacher whose students do well---to see that in the inner city, the every- teacher-for-herself approach doesn't work well. But the GOP folk are also openly admiring of the schools that have shown the power of the team, so I wait for them to get smart like Edwards and move in that same direction.

1 comment:

gregory brown said...

Good to have you back on the beat, Jay, and thanks for the thoughtful analysis of Edwards' proposals. Here's a question that I honestly don't know the answer to about merit pay. My understanding, from talking with teachers in various systems and at various levels, is that they favor merit pay if its being distributed based on merit, rather than seniority, loyalty to the principal, or membership in the teachers' association. But the bigger objection is to merit pay if it replaces cola adjustments, rather than serving as a true bonus and true incentive (instead of merely a way to keep up).

Has anyone talked about making cola raises mandatory and using merit pay as an incentive raise above that? Would nea and aft, do you think, support such a measure nationally?