Liberals Aren't Truly Opposed to Merit Pay for Teachers. They Just Don't Know What It Is.

Categories: Schutze

duncecap.jpg
Library of Congress
You have to wear the hat, and then they make you write 100 times on the blackboard, "Merit pay for teachers is a Republican plot."
I always feel better after I talk to Larry James. I was worried. Now I'm not.

James, president and CEO of CitySquare, the city's biggest and most comprehensive private anti-poverty organization, had an op-ed piece in The Dallas Morning News yesterday, one of those things about who to hire for the new city manager. I keep waiting for them to ask me.

Mine would only be nine words long: someone not totally in the pocket of Yellow Cab. But, you know, then somebody's going to say, "Oh, sure, Schutze, and where do you suppose we would find anybody like that?" And I would have to say, "No idea."

Where were we? Oh, Larry James. He's one of the city's smartest true liberals, a rare combination of practical political savvy, business know-how and morally inspired idealism. So I was worried.

He said in his essay that a new city manager for Dallas must be someone capable of "engaging public education in Dallas as a key determinant for long-term economic revitalization." I believe that, too. But my experience over the last year has been that many of my liberal friends who say that kind of stuff don't really believe it. That is, they say they believe until they get to the point where we have to talk about how.

Engaging public education? Are we not knee-deep already in a pretty concerted effort to do just that in the Dallas public school system? A school superintendent who is all about reform just completed a year in which he and his team achieved all of their important objectives on the road to meaningful change. But at what harrowing cost?

For bringing the city's school system several ticks down the road to real reform, Mike Miles' reward has been to barely avoid getting Michelle Rhee'd right out of town, being stripped of lucrative pay bonuses and put on probation by the school board like a kid in the corner wearing a dunce cap. I guess if he had actually failed to accomplish one of his objectives, they would have taken him out back and shot him.

The battle is this tough in large part because my fellow liberals, marching to the siren song of the teachers unions, have bought the line that the reforms Miles is seeking are part of a cynical plot by corporate conservatives to take over the public school system for their own benefit. (My challenge remains: a gold star for the first person who can tell me what possible benefit corporate conservatives could achieve by taking over a major urban public school system in this country. Are they doing it just for fun?)

All of this is about to come to a very fine point when Miles moves toward the true centerpiece of school reform -- the dismantling of the seniority-based pay system and ironclad teacher tenure in favor of merit pay, not to mention the 12 percent of the teachers at the bottom of the effectiveness scale getting fired. There's your liberal sticking point.

I absolutely get why it sticks. It sticks like hell for me, too. It sounds so management. So corporate conservative. I mean, I hope this isn't libelous, but sometimes I hear people talking about merit pay and it sounds ... Republican!

It no longer sounds Republican when you hear it explained. The system Miles is moving toward would incorporate an entire machinery of measurements and observations to take into account the external factors that influence student performance, very much including poverty, so that teachers are not held responsible for things for which they are not responsible. But the new system would assume that there is a way to find those things for which an individual teacher is, indeed, responsible.

But that's where my liberal friends go in the tank. A lot of them say, "Oh, we have to do something about education," but when the rubber meets the road on teacher pay they throw up their hands and say, "You know what, let's cure poverty instead."

I always say, "Sure, but can we do world peace first?"

So I asked James. What about merit pay? At first he worried me. He said he saw poverty as an enormously powerful influence on student achievement, so powerful that he didn't see a way to step around it. "We need to reform the economy and create a situation in which people can thrive and not just eke out an existence."

He asked me how it can be fair to measure kids by test scores when their lives away from school are so dramatically different. All good points. But I said I believe the system the superintendent is devising will take all of these very points to heart and incorporate them in whatever is the final metric.

James said he would have to seriously weigh something like that. "If there is a better mousetrap that does have equity in it, then, yes." Then he said, "I'm pro-union, but I'm not pro everything that every union wants."

That means, I think, that James can be sold, but he will have to be sold. Like the best of liberals, he's a show-me guy. That is significant. Much of public resistance to merit pay for teachers is based on a lack of knowledge of how it would work and a blind acceptance of the simplistic line coming from the unions. Tell you what. You get a guy like Larry James to really sign off on it, you just won yourself a very important ally.


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45 comments
Rix1
Rix1

The gold star goes to those who understand that corporations need well educated employees who can add and subtract, and read and write. Way too many need remedial training just to fill out the job applications.

JackJett
JackJett

I am a liberal who over the years have paid a shitload of school taxes yet never had a child set foot in a school.  Yet every other day I read how some childish bullshit happening with the adults who are paid to operate the school system.

And now, somehow as a taxpaying liberal, I am part of the problem by ME not understanding merit pay for teachers??  This in addition to the havoc I create (tornados, earthquakes, decline of American values, and bestiality) I am responsible for as a gay man is becoming more responsibility than I can deal with. 

The state of perfection seem further away everyday.  Can I ever be forgiven?  I mean hell...Mary!

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

I have a question.


Do any "teacher organizations" or "teacher's unions" have a collective bargaining agreement with DISD?

bbetzen
bbetzen

I want that gold star! 

The benefits corporate conservatives achieve by taking over a major urban public school system can come from multiple directions.  If they are actually running charter schools, or anything else related to education, they could be making real money including some of those multi-hundred thousand dollar salaries running educational alternatives.  But the big benefit is to keep people from being educated enough to be motivated to vote based on what is really happening in Texas. Critical thinking is the enemy!  The GOP even said so in their 2012 platform!!!  Keep our schools wounded enough so that education toward critical thinking is minimal. Nothing could be a bigger enemy!  Those who want to control the electorate want to do it with cheap political advertisements that do not have to face a critical thinking electorate.  A critical thinking electorate would make such advertisements much more expensive, and less effective!  Destroy public schools and the efficiency of such advertisements goes up!

Do I get the gold star?

ruddski
ruddski

Merit pay for students and parents, since that's where the problems originate.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Senator Bobby - Wild Thing

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

Do Highland Park, Plano, Colleyville, etc. have merit pay?


Honest question. Because that's who the competition is for teachers.

eastdallascam
eastdallascam

"Much of public resistance to merit pay for teachers is based on a lack of knowledge..."

Is this knowledge about merit pay for teachers available to the public for consideration? Also, is there more than one type of merit pay system?

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

So, how is this issue a Liberal/conservative thing?  Of course teachers should be held to the highest standards and be rewarded with a higher salary for their A work.  Mediocre teachers should find another line of work.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Trade unions gave birth to the middle class.

Without them, America wouldn't exist.

The problem is, today's unions seem to have forgotten why they were successful in the first place.

The bargain of a good wage and benefits was in exchange for a workforce that did the job well. They're called trade unions because in the beginning you had to meet standards to join. That was the point. Somehow they devolved into anyone can join and lost focus on the original deal. Unions and their leaders would be wise to remember this. 

A stronger union movement might be the best thing that could happen to the economy.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

The problem here is like so many, 2 factions with seemingly similar goals, but strategies so far apart they can't find a middle. One worrying about possible loss of wheat with the chaff, and the other wanting to do a union busting Chainsaw Al/Jack Welch slash and burn. Are any of us able to formulate a plan even remotely better than Miles'?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

What Jim is really saying is that liberals don't know what merit actually is.  Once you take into account the Dunning-Kruger effect, I think he's 100% right.

ruddski
ruddski

no gold star, but you do get a "Hope and Change" bumper sticker for such critical thinking.

ryan762
ryan762

@Cliffhanger Plano did until the big state budget cuts a few years ago. The incentive pay was relatively meager, though, and the application wasn't really based on a single teacher's effectiveness (at my wife's school, the entire grade level got the bonus because the grade level scored above a certain level on the standardized tests, though my wife was excluded because, even though she has a classroom and was hired as a teacher, they said she wasn't a classroom teacher, apparently because special education students aren't students).

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Cliffhanger 

Highland Park doesn't need merit pay. It has mean moms.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@eastdallascam 

Many types, our type still a work in progress, some communication has been going on with teachers associations meanwhile but clearly not enough.


observist
observist topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Yes, all bad teachers and mediocre teachers should quit teaching, that way all the teachers will be above average.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

Apparently, Mr. Schutze's liberals believe that a system that allows for unequal pay will work to the disadvantage of an unacceptable number of people. Conservatives apparently disagree. The goal is the same for both camps, however--to improve the level of public education. The real question is this: who will be disadvantaged if reform is achieved, and how does that number compare to the number of disadvantaged if nothing changes? I doubt that Mr. Miles sees this as a liberal/conservative issue, either.

doublecheese
doublecheese

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz It shouldn't be a liberal/conservative thing, but for some reason, it is.  There's simply a lot of opposition to this among liberals.  I don't get it either.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Montemalone Even FDR didn't think that unions had a place in the public sector.  In the private sector, all sides are theoretically represented at the table.  Labor has their seat, management has theirs, and the bickering is over how much of the profits stay on one side or the other.  Both sides stand to gain and lose equally.

In the public sector, there are still two sides to the table, but neither side is negotiating to gain or lose their own slice of the pie.  The whole pie is 'the public' and the public has no seat at the table.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@Montemalone Well put. Just as the IBEW and other trades unions provide and require programmatic apprenticeships and certification levels, why aren't teacher unions championing their own ranks' development? The answer, I suspect, is tied more to the campaign for dues than the goal of guaranteeing effectiveness.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Well put. Unions are like any org. Selfsustainng bureaucracy and insider deals take over.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@ozonelarryb 

You identify what has been a big problem for me personally. I walk into the reform tent, and I see some people I don't like being in the same tent with.  Then I tell myself, "That just shows this a  real deal instead of a social outing with your friends." But in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "First swastika, I'm outta here."

observist
observist topcommenter

@everlastingphelps    In other words "All liberals are stupid and have the same opinion about everything"  or, in yet other words,  "I'm a Manichean partisan douchebag."

Guesty
Guesty

@everlastingphelps What Jim is saying is that no one can agree what type of "merit" we want to evaluate or what yardstick to use to evaluate it.  This isn't an insignificant problem.  Entire books on labor economics have been written about this very problem in situations where the input variables and outcomes are much easier to objectively measure.  

That isn't to say that we shouldn't try.  I support merit pay and merit retention in the teaching profession.  But first:

1) We all have to understand that the result will be some unfairness to teachers.  No system that measures the things we all would agree should be measured can be entirely objective.  Some teachers will unfairly fall below cut line (not that excellent teachers would be fired, but teachers who are marginally better than some who would be retained, e.g. those around the 15th-20th percentile).  Some will earn bonuses that don't deserve it.  We simply have to acknowledge and minimize the unfairness, which is hard.  One of government's big handicaps is the insistence on maintaining a veneer of perfect fairness.  This illusion is accomplished by paying all teachers the same based on seniority.  It is an illusion because it treats good and bad teachers as though they are the same, which is just as unfair as treating like things differently.  

2)  Teachers need to understand that getting the respect and compensation they rightfully argue the profession deserves has consequences, and one of the consequences might be that many of them aren't good enough to keep their jobs.  In countries that value teachers the way teachers should be valued, people are regularly rejected from the education departments in college and the requirements to get a degree and to maintain status in the profession are much higher.  In other words, many teachers in the United States wouldn't have made it into the profession under similar circumstances, and they should expect that they will be squeezed out eventually if the United States adopts better models of compensating and respecting teachers.   

3) We have to provide increased resources. In my opinion, we presently only pay for average or median teachers, meaning we overpay the bad ones and underpay the good ones.  Some seem to think you can fix the incentive structure by diverting some of the money from the bad ones to the good ones without changing the overall costs.  But this ignores the entire purpose of merit pay.  Our goal is to increase the number of good teachers and to force out the worst teachers, which should result in better teachers overall.  As we push up the general quality of teaching, we must expect that the overall improvement will cost us.  There is no free lunch.

 The first two problems are something the teachers are going to have to accept.  The third is something the voters are going to have to accept.  My sense is neither group is willing to yield, so we will get more status quo.   

Anonymous
Anonymous

@everlastingphelps  

Agreed, and the Ayers-Schutze effect might be even more relevant to the discussion.

Ayers-Schutze named after Bill and Wilbur of course.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@everlastingphelps 

For benefit of readers not famiiar: "Dunning Kruger Effect" describes belief that ownership of a keyboard device with access to the Internet makes one a writer. 

AtoZ
AtoZ

@RTGolden1 @Montemalone I agree.  The union approach almost invariably leads to degraded results in the public sector, because the market can't function efficiently enough against poor performance.  If unionized soap company employees start making crummy soap, the public will buy elsewhere, and the problem has a chance to self correct.  But in a public school system, sure, a small percentage dissatisfied with the product will yank their kids out and put them in private schools, but the vast majority of "customers" simply cannot afford to do so.  No chance at market correction.  In the absence of a market, unions have precisely the effect suggested by this article: sluggish, lowest-common denominator output, directly contrary to a merit-driven system.  In other words, the union approach and a merit-driven approach need not be opposites, but in a system lacking any market competition, they are almost certain to end up being opposites, every time.

"a gold star for the first person who can tell me what possible benefit corporate conservatives could achieve by taking over a major urban public school system in this country"  --->  Easy.  Soylent Green is PEOPLE!

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@wcvemail @Montemalone 

One of the big contradictions in all this for me is that the vast preponderance of the research shows the absolute central importance of teachers to outcomes, and yet the teachers union line is all to the effect of, "No fair, we're really not that important, there are many other factors more important than us." And then they say, "We want to be respected as professionals." 

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Jim, you just illustrated my point and several others. You need to drop that baggage at the door in order to get along and move to the goal. And you have to be the example of doing that to the other factions who are ready to pounce on you. I know you know this, but this time there seems to be more of a consensus across factions and a decent chance of sumpin happening.

Yes, I have a rant gene too. So I know how hard it is to restrain....

James080
James080

@JimSX

"First swastika, I'm outta here." --Schutze

Gee, I wonder why people with different political views can't seem to communicate?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Anonymous @everlastingphelps 

Ayers-Schutze effect: belief among certain elderly white males that they are still visible to women under 30.

Angrywhiteguy
Angrywhiteguy

@JimSX @dmtrousd 

Absolute horseshit.

I'm a teacher and envy the job security, salary, benefits and tenure that other states have.......NONE of which we enjoy in Texas.

Why?

Because teachers cannot participate in collective bargaining, nor can they strike. Texas teachers are limited to lobbying our brilliant state legislature......and see how far that has us?

Together the NEA&AFT teacher associations have less membership than the Association of Texas Professional Educators.......which is stridently NON union.

Observerphiles, both libtard and conservative LOVE to bitch about teacher unions, merit pay, tenure, etc......but probably have never taught or even talked with a Texas public school teacher.

The concept of tenure is not practiced in Texas public schools.

What a bunch of dimwits.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@dmtrousd 

We always talk about this being a right to work state and public employees not having unions, but the NEA and AFT have made brilliant use of lobbying power in Austin over the years to create a teacher tenure system few unions could achieve through collective bargaining.

dmtrousd
dmtrousd

Also, when teacher's unions leaders are asked about their role on teacher dismissals, (i.e. Randi Weingarten) their unequivocal response is that their job is to represent the teachers, regardless of the merits of the case. Texas may not technically have teachers unions, but it's the same story when bad teachers are fired. Instead, the leadership needs to focus on protecting the brand, on promoting quality over a guaranteed job. Some teachers could use remediation before outright dismissal, especially the younger ones. But if you've been teaching for years and your students have a pattern of failing under you, then you're out. I had the good fortune of being taught by excellent teachers in junior high, and the misfortune of having abysmal teachers in high school (different district). Half my HS teachers should have been out on their asses, and not teaching.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@JimSX @wcvemail @Montemalone Smaller class sizes, with students grouped by ability instead of just age. Going slow for the slow kids bores the fast kids, going fast for the fast kids leaves the slow kids behind. A focus on the needs of all means more teachers, and more classrooms, are needed to give everybody the education they need to thrive.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @JimSX @observist 


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @observist 

... which is why the last Republican presidential primary looked like how many clowns can you stuff into a Studebaker? 

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