300 v. 10,000 and the broader discussion of performance pay

A bit more on Obama, performance pay, and the NEA: I commented yesterday about the Mike Antonucci video of Obama’s speech to the representative assembly and the light round of boos when he mentioned performance pay (or merit pay or differential pay: take your pick, it doesn’t change the substantive matters). Antonucci responds with more about his impression of the response (whether boos or cheers were louder for Obama, for which segments, etc.). I wasn’t there, so I’ll take his word that I miscounted from the spectacular audio on Youtube. I’m not sure that matters much either for the politics (which is that Obama is popular among teachers, but he and union leaders disagree most about performance pay) or for the substantive policy.

Charles Barone updated his entry on the matter twice, and here’s the relevant matter:

I and many of the people who were passing this around are a little more skeptical than Sherman about what is needed to effect the kind of change Obama is talking about. The teacher quality problem is national. And urgent. It requires a national solution, which is frankly long overdue

Here we see what I explain to my undergraduate students: NCLB and education politics more generally have created a vicious circle of distrust. Because of how states respond to NCLB (some of which is pushed by the law and some a matter of state choice), teachers and parents at the local level have an increasingly negative view of NCLB and states. And because of the same choices, national policymakers and the Beltway view states and local actors with even more distrust.

The argument that Problem X “requires a national solution” is more a reflection of this distrust than a result of serious research or policy perspectives about the role of the federal government. (See Manna, Mcguinn, DeBray-Pelot, Kaestle, and others on federalism in education policy.) The federal government can do many things, and some things it must do, but federal education law is pretty blunt. It has never been a policy scalpel. And everything we know about performance pay and merit pay is that the details matter a great deal, a situation where federal mandates would be disastrous and eventually undercut any transient support for merit pay.

I know that the details matter from my observations of a cudgel-like mandate in my own state and also from my own experience with merit pay in higher ed: my colleagues generally like merit pay because departments are in control of the procedures and vote on them. Test scores play no role, and support for merit pay would evaporate if any of the K-12 schemes involving those were floated here. The most quantitatively-oriented department chair I know is least confident about evaluations of teaching and most confident on research, for a variety of reasons. Even so, my colleagues also support across-the-board raises (salaries at USF are in the fourth quintile of research-extensive universities, in terms of the national distribution) and compression-inversion remedies.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.