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Thursday, July 12, 2007

No Merits Here

Ruth Marcus has an interesting editoral in yesterday's Washington Post concerning the NEA Convention and the candidates who spoke there, and two words that made the room go silent. Merit Pay.

Barack Obama had the audacity to use them during a Q&A session, and was booed. That really isn't unexpected, the NEA Convention isn't really a "teachers convention" it's a union gathering, and unlike teachers, the folks who run their unions (actually any unions) don't like the idea of merit pay.

Merit pay, you see, allows someone to break out from the pack, and unions don't like that. Seniority, and maybe education credits (in the teachers unions) are what they think should get someone ahead, the former more than the latter. Having someone singled out as "better" than others doesn't work in the union mold, since it's basically socialism with great fringe benefits.

Marcus makes good points about No Child Left Behind, like the lack of funding for parts of it; and the definite increased in accountability that's been seen from it. She also points out the hypocrisy of Obama and other candidates as they court the support, and money, from the teachers unions. Only a few years ago Obama blasted Democrats that wanted the whole program scrapped, but now supports that basic position, at least in front of the NEA.

Marcus also assembled an excellent reference of groups working on fixing both NCLB and the education system overall, many of them left leaning groups that aren't towing the NEA line of more money, no accountability. She suggests that the Democratic candidates read up on those proposals and get the stomach to offend the NEA by using some of the things other groups have proposed. But, she points out, this crop of Democrats is the same as the groups before:
But so far, anyway, the Democrats who would be president are happy to propose more spending on education but are reluctant to impose any demands in return -- in other words, they are happy to sound like the same old Democratic Party, permissive and beholden.

She points out that "teachers are an important Democratic constituency" but I think the truth is that teachers money is an important democratic funding source. The union support and it's associated bankroll is their real constituency.

Rank and file teachers, I'd be willing to bet, wouldn't have a problem with a merit pay system, or the idea of weeding out poor performers. There would be the bottom 10% of them that would complain, because they know they are the weeds. But the vast majority of teachers would probably welcome the idea of some competition for raises based on something other than turning gray haired.

The last paragraph is true, but slightly off base:
Yes, teachers are an important Democratic constituency, but aren't parents
Democratic voters, too -- parents who might welcome a message about accountability and expectations? If, that is, one of the candidates were willing
to deliver it.

Yes, parents are Democratic voters, but my personal experience is that very few of them are involved enough in their kids education, or fighting to reform it, to be that huge a constituency. Many of them would like to hear that message, so long as it doesn't include another missing piece of our education system, parental involvement.

Marcus' missing point is that education reform can't happen just from teachers, or politicians. Real reform of the education system has to come from the users of the system getting disgusted with the amount of money we spend on education, and results we get from it. Until the people who send their kids to the schools say "Enough!" and demand change, we'll have the NEA setting policy for education, which is more money, even though that method of fixing education has failed miserably.

Technorati tags: Education, NEA, Teachers, Parents, Reform

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