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.