John Kerry, education radical

John Kerry has a radical plan for improving schools by paying more to good teachers who teach in bad schools, argues Jonathan Schorr in Washington Monthly.

(In his June education speeches), Kerry . . . challenged two longstanding, and fiercely defended, union prerogatives: seniority-based pay increases and rules virtually guaranteeing veteran teachers tenure. The candidate proposed a “new bargain” — a $30 billion, 10-year plan of federal grants which would allow districts to raise the pay of teachers whose students consistently test above average, while at the same time making it easier for schools to fire bad teachers. “Greater achievement ought to be a goal,” Kerry said, “and it should be able to command greater pay, just the way it does in every other sector of professional employment.”

Schorr doubts that Kerry’s $5,000 bonuses would be enough to transform the system: Good teachers want to teach in schools where they can be effective, and they won’t accept horrible working conditions for a slightly fatter paycheck. However, he believes the lure of more money could force unions and districts to collaborate on systems to evaluate which teachers are raising student achievement. That would be a huge breakthrough.

Josh Benson, who’s retiring as a TNR blogger, credits Kerry with a “Sister Souljah” approach to teachers’ unions, but wonders if the plan to tie bonuses to results ever will become reality.

So do I. It’s so easy to pay more money, so hard to devise a workable merit pay plan — much less one that’s politically workable. I think the unions believe they can water down the plan to be very unradical. And they’re probably right, unless Kerry is willing to fight hard and risk alienating a major part of his political base. Kerry has said some very good things about education in the past. And then he’s waffled. I don’t know what he’d actually do as president.

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Comments

  1. jeff wright says:

    Joanne, I am likely going to vote for Kerry, but it won’t be for anything he says about education. All presidents and candidates for the office believe they have to flannel-mouth about the schools. However, a passing familiarity with our federalist system makes a compelling case for the argument that schools belong firmly in the bailiwick of the states.

    Now, given that the feds take more of our federal tax monies to do things about schools, something over which we have no control, I suppose we have to listen to Bush and Kerry when they talk about how they’re going to improve the schools. Unfortunately, ISTM that school improvement has to start at home.

    Bottom line: I just tune the federal rhetoric out. They can’t do anything about the problems, but they sure want you to think they can. Do not look for miracles from Washington.

  2. Donald DuBois says:

    Joanne Jacobs wrote:

    “Kerry has said some very good things about education in the past. And then he’s waffled. I don’t know what he’d actually do as president.”

    For a smart woman, you have a naivete that is beyond comprehension. One third of the delegates to the Democratic Convention were teacher union members. When was the last time you saw Kerry NOT waffle on a difficult issue? Any issue? When was the last time you saw a politician alienate a large part of their base?

    Yes, sometimes two plus two does add up to four.
    Kerry will reform education when snowballs exist in hell. Sorry to break the news to you. Please, please … for a smart woman, try not to be so naive.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Bet: The bonuses will stay and become a base entitlement. The assessments will fade away.

  4. I have seen some effects of merit pay
    on a large scale. It was in California,
    under Gray Davis. It lasted a year, but
    ended because of the budget melt-down.
    I saw a teacher completely denounce
    this pay before the entire faculty of
    his middle school. He, in particular,
    was probably earning close to, or was
    within the $60,000 range.

    I also heard many NEW teachers scoff
    at union suggestions that they return,
    or contribute that money toward other
    causes. These teachers seemed eager to
    experiment, and anticipated the rewards
    for their extra efforts.

    Kerry’s idea would probably work for
    about two years before it became
    corrupted.

  5. mike from oregon says:

    To Jeff –

    You say, “…federalist system makes a compelling case for the argument that schools belong firmly in the bailiwick of the states.” and I would agree. The problem is that the states have done a pathetic job with education, and left to their own devices they can’t seem to figure out which direction is up. I blame teachers unions for quite a bit of this but feel there is more than enough blame to give the state’s their fair share.

    NCLB was the feds answer to finding some accountability. The problem with a bringing the feds in, is it has the grace of a bull in a china shop. In many cases when the “fix” finally has to be implimented by the feds, it’s going to be ugly, broad ranging and rather indiscriminant. There are very few subtleties in a federal program. Even though NCLB wasn’t a mandated program, they stuck enough money out there that the money hunger/money mad schools almost couldn’t resist it (even though now the schools yell about how it was an unfunded mandate – it was neither).

    Do I believe Kerry – no, I don’t believe him on anything; Bush may not win, but he’ll have my vote. Bush did something about education (NCLB) all Kerry will do is water that down and take some more of your taxes to give to the teachers.

  6. Mike, gotta disagree with you and Jeff.

    Oh, I agree up to a point, but the point is that schools aren’t a state matter, they’re a local matter. Every school should be run by the community in which it resides.

    I have a question for Ms. Jacobs (and everyone else too, I suppose): do you think that Kerry’s plan would encourage teachers to cherry-pick students in order to create a group of students which would test above average?

  7. jeff wright says:

    A little for both Casey and Mike.

    Casey, just so you know where I stand, when I talk about the federal system and the states, I am essentially in agreement with you—schools are a local matter. The Constitution does not go to such fine detail as to discuss local school boards, etc., but inasmuch as this how the states have chosen to deal with the issue—by pushing it down to the local level—I approve. Of course, I live in the mega-state (California), which operates like a national government, so educational policies here are supremely bizarre at all times. This means that we have two huge govermental layers applied to all educational issues.

    Mike, I have to grant you one thing, which Joanne addresses above. NCLB apparently worked to keep one smart kid from having to go to a crappy high school; he will now go to a much better school, because of federal policies.

    So maybe the fed can actually do good for education.

  8. Mike in Texas says:

    I think his plan would lead to teachers fighting over the top students.

    Why should I teach students who don’t/can’t/won’t learn when its going to cost me huge in the wallet? After all, I DO have bills to pay just like everyone else.

    Another problem I have with these incentive plans is how do you decide who gets them? At my school I teach Science and Computers in labs. Am I going to be locked out of raises b/c I don’t have my own classroom? What about the librarian? What about the teachers of special education students or those teachers who teach the kids with severe reading problems like dyslexia? How will they earn their bonuses?

  9. Andy Freeman says:

    I’ve found that people who claim that their performance can’t be measured are either doing poorly or doing something unimportant.

  10. Mike in Texas says:

    Andy,

    Is that the best you have?

    I never said my performance couldn’t be measured I said the plans don’t include how to measure teachers like myself.

    For the record, I have a very presitigous award I was chosen to receive by other teachers, so your little barbs don’t hurt.

  11. Andy Freeman says:

    > For the record, I have a very presitigous award I was chosen to receive by other teachers, so your little barbs don’t hurt.

    Trotting out such things is akin to bringing up SAT scores except Ms. Congeniality gets a scholarship.

    MiT realizes that “no teacher evaluation” is an untenable situation (even though it did last for quite a while). So, he’s going to attack every evaluation proposed and refuse to suggest one.

  12. Mike in Texas says:

    “I’ve found that people who claim that their performance can’t be measured are either doing poorly or doing something unimportant”

    Let me know when you find a way to reliably measure self-esteem, determination and desire, 3 traits a good teacher can inspire in students which cannot be quantified.

  13. Steve LaBonne says:

    Those traits don’t mean squat unless they actually lead to student learning- which is something that can be measured (preferably using a value-added approach to meet the familiar objections). I know people in my own field who have all three of those qualities (especially the self-esteem!), but unfortunately happen to be flagrantly incompetent.

  14. Andy Freeman says:

    > Let me know when you find a way to reliably measure self-esteem, determination and desire, 3 traits a good teacher can inspire in students which cannot be quantified.

    If something can’t be measured, how does MiT know that teachers affect it at all?

    Right – we’re supposed to take his word for it.

    I agree that there are some things that teachers do that are hard to measure. That’s no excuse not to measure other things.

    BTW – Research shows that thugs have above average of self-esteem….

  15. Mike in Texas says:

    So do most college graduates, including Miss Congeniality.

    You bark up the wrong tree with your arguements Andy. You seem to think I’m totally against some of these reforms and I’m not. I do realize there are bad public school systems, my hometown of New Orleans being one of them. But just b/c some schools are bad and underperforming doesn’t mean they all are. Taking money from all public schools, which is the aim of the Republicans, and giving it to people who are in it to make a profit should frighten the daylights out of you, especially if you have children in school.

  16. Steve LaBonne says:

    What does any of that have to do with the desirability of seriously evaluating your performance via concrete measures of student learning? This widespread attempt by the public-school establishment to change the subject via political rants, whenever the taxpayers start getting restless about not getting what they’re paying for, will in the long run undermine support for public schools far more effectively than anything Bush could do. Or to put it succinctly, you’re your own worst enemy.

  17. “Taking money from all public schools, which is the aim of the Republicans, and giving it to people who are in it to make a profit should frighten the daylights out of you, especially if you have children in school.”

    Why? It’s not coincidence that in life that when companies are competing for my dollar, I tend to find excellent goods and services commensurate with a reasonable price/fee. Why should this product– my child’s education, be any different?

    I understand that I have uber-capitalistic leanings, so I pose this question in case that I am missing something. I do realize captialism doesn’t keep a lake or river clean, so I am always curious that I might be missing some angle.

  18. Mike in Texas says:

    Here in my little corner of Texas the taxpayers are restless about getting what they’re paying for. In fact, I work for a public school district that many parents choose to pay tuition to send their children to so why should my school and my district, which has never been shown to be defective, suffer the penalties imposed upon failing schools? Why should we get any less money to educate our students just b/c schools in some big city are failing?

    As for your children, when push comes to shove do you think these for profit schools will place the needs of your child over the needs of their bottom line?

  19. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘but wonders if the plan to tie bonuses to results ever will become reality. ‘

    Wonder no more, it won’t.

  20. “As for your children, when push comes to shove do you think these for profit schools will place the needs of your child over the needs of their bottom line?”

    In the noble sense, no. But in terms of do we want to be a successful business venture, we as a company need to: provide excellent service and customer satisfaction. We also need to balance doing this at a pricing level that the market is willing to bear and make this a profitable entity for the owners to motivate them to create such a business to begin with. Like any other business, if our product sucks, we will fail, and be replaced.

  21. Steve LaBonne says:

    If your district is good enough to attract tuition-payers from other districts, that’s accountability in action, it’s clearly a good thing, it’s working in your favor, and rhetorical blasts against accountability in general only undermine your own position. As well-meaning as you clearly are, that’s unfortunately something you seem to have a knack for.

  22. Mike in Texas says:

    Not at all Steve, but unlike some others on this board I do try to take a realistic look at education and I believe I have a differnet perspective since I am a teacher.

    You don’t have to tell me there are bad schools. I’ve seen them, attended some and even worked in one. The bad school I worked in had a principal who would come in every day at 11, read the newspaper, watch some TV, eat lunch and be gone by 2 to tend to his outside business. He was Principal of the Year for the district.

    There are people on this board who would somehow lay the blame for what happened at that school on the teachers. B/C there are bad schools in some places there are people who want to gut the American education system, including the good schools, on the chance that charter schools will make a difference.

  23. Andy Freeman says:

    > As for your children, when push comes to shove do you think these for profit schools will place the needs of your child over the needs of their bottom line?

    And that’s precisely why they’ll do a better job than public schools.

    Public schools never place the needs of children over the needs of their bottom line.

    However, there’s one important difference. If I don’t like what a private school does, I can take the money elsewhere. Public schools insist on receiving the money, no matter what.

    Competent people welcome competition.

  24. Mike in Texas says:

    >Public schools [B}never[B]place the needs of children over the needs of their bottom line?

    Your true colors are showing Andy, why don’t you just admit you don’t like teachers and be done with it?

    Even in the school I mentioned above, where the principal and the district administration were negligent, there were kind and caring teachers.

    I suggest you spend some time in an elementary school, you can be my guest for a day or two, and then see if you want to make that claim.

  25. Mike in Texas says:

    Darn! My HTML skills are weak. The “never” should have been in bold letters.

  26. Steve LaBonne says:

    No, MiT, this attitude really won’t do. I don’t care how Andy feels about teachers, but “competent people welcome competition”- he got that 100% right. And the corollary is that if you appear to be obsessed by fear of competition, people- fairly or not, like it or not- will assume that you have reason to doubt your own competence.

  27. Mike in Texas says:

    Steve,

    If you’ll read my posts carefully you will not find any mention of being afraid of competition. Andy and I have these arguements frequently where he talks about what he believes are the enormous powers of teachers’ unions and I proceed to tell him where I think he’s wrong.

    By all means, if the schools are failing to do their jobs then bring in new people or open up your own school. But right now, public schools in the US are purposely being set up to fail so that people who whose primary purpose is to make money can use your tax dollars to turn a profit. Here in Texas anyone can open a charter school and guess what? Your not bound by the same rules the public schools have to live with. You don’t have to provide transportation for your students, the local public school has to use their money. Academic standards? You only have to follow them if you want your athletic teams to compete against public school teams. Problem students who won’t improve? Ship’em to someone else. Give me that set of cirumstances and I can give you an award winning school easily.

    Also, I take issue on people who constantly blame education problems on teachers. It is the politicians in this country who set the standards and provide the funding. Here in Texas the standard is 100% passing state mandated tests, while the state has admitted in court it only provides 55% of the funds necessary to achieve that goal. There are people on this board who on the one hand claim these fantastic powers for teachers and on the other hand ignore the cold hard facts so why shouldn’t I point out the facts and express my opinion on it?

    As far as questioning my competency to teach PLEASE! I’ll tell you the same thing I tell Andy; resorting to name calling and personal attacks only shows weakness in your arguements.

  28. Steve LaBonne says:

    ” But right now, public schools in the US are purposely being set up to fail…” Baloney. You wouldn’t accept that sort of unsubstantiated BS from your students- I hope. When people start a dialog off with conspiracy theories, I rarely find it profitable to listen to the rest of what they say.

  29. Steve LaBonne says:

    P.S. Speaking of learning to read, I did not question your competence, I questioned why, _assuming_ you are as competent as you think you are, you’re so worried about having to demonstrate it. You’d never make it in my profession, one aspect of of which involves surviving attempts by hostile attorneys to question my competence in front of a judge and jury.

  30. Mike in Texas says:

    And the 7 year olds I do hands on Science lessons with everyday would eat you alive.

    But its funny; unlike you I don’t believe I no more about the courtroom than you do, but yet you want to tell me how and what to teach those 7 year old or worse have a politician tell me.

    Do the research yourself. You will find plenty of articles on how Texas schools are only receiving 55% of the funding needed to achieve the states mandates. You won’t have to look hard, there’s a court case going on right now about it. You will also find discussions of how Texas schools will be required to have 100% of their kids passing their state mandated test or be considered “failing”, which will force the schools to give up money to the private and charter schools.

    By the way, one of the biggest proponents of this, and one of the biggest clowns in the Bush administration, is Secretary of Education Rod Paige, the former Supt. of Schools for the city of Houston. His former school district was caught lying about the attendance and dropout rates and doing such a poor job of lying about it the state bureacrats had to step in. His administration was actually stupid enough to claim 0 – 1% dropout rates for a school district that actually has a considerable dropout problem.

    It doesn’t say much about

  31. Andy Freeman says:

    > Even in the school I mentioned above, where the principal and the district administration were negligent, there were kind and caring teachers.

    Kind and caring? I guess that makes everything okay. NOT!

    > I suggest you spend some time in an elementary school, you can be my guest for a day or two, and then see if you want to make that claim.

    Been there, done that.

    It always comes back to the same point. MiT thinks that public schools should get the money no matter what.

  32. Andy Freeman says:

    > If you’ll read my posts carefully you will not find any mention of being afraid of competition.

    Really? MiT supports vouchers or other mechanisms by which public money goes to non-public schools?

    Perhaps MiT can tell us why public money to private schools is such a horrible thing for kindergarten through high school, but good for college.

    > By all means, if the schools are failing to do their jobs then bring in new people or open up your own school.

    Do the students come with the money that was being spent on their education in the public schools?

  33. Mike in Texas says:

    Sure they do Andy. And they also come with a neat little perk that helps the bottom line for the for profit schools; the student’s home district is required to pay for his/her transportation.

  34. Steve LaBonne says:

    Seve-years-olds are low-maintenance compared to sophomore pre-meds. 😉

  35. Mike in Texas says:

    I don’t know about that Steve, I’ve got a sophmore journalism major to take care of and he’s turning out to be VERY high maintenance.

  36. Andy Freeman says:

    > And they also come with a neat little perk that helps the bottom line for the for profit schools; the student’s home district is required to pay for his/her transportation.

    Since these schools aren’t getting all the money, the public schools are still getting some money for students that aren’t even attending, why shouldn’t the public school pay for some services.

    MiT will likely respond with something like “they’re getting the whole state per diem”. That ignores grants, capital expenditures, etc.

  37. Mike in Texas says:

    Actually Andy the way funding works is you get a certain amount per student per day. If a child is absent that day you do not get that amount. Out of this amount you pay your operating expenses, salaries, fixed costs, etc. One of those expenses is transportation.

    If a charter school is operating than it should receive all of the money it is due. BUT, it should also be required to provide all the services the public schools are required to provide. I have no problem with that.