I’m fascinated by how performance pay for teachers has entered the mainstream of education policy thought. I won’t rehash the pros and cons; it’s just interesting to watch the theoretical debate.
Folks have been suggesting for many years that our current salary system doesn’t promote excellence in either teachers or students, and they have been mostly dismissed as ideologues or cranks. Experiments were tried. Some were successful, others were not. As time passed, more politicians and people of influence expressed guarded support for the concept. Then some Democrats. Then some Democratic presidential candidates. Then a Democratic President. Now we have legitimate work being done to put performance pay systems into place all over the country. This has prompted more detailed debate in the education policy world, and in the larger political world.
In just the last two days we’ve seen thoughtful posts on the topic by Kevin Carey at The Quick and the Ed, Robert Pondiscio at The Core Knowledge Blog, Megan McArdle at The Atlantic, and Matt Yglesias at his eponymous blog. All of this – the movement on the issue, the debate, the embracing of the idea by people of all political stripes – is good and is to be applauded. But while they all might acknowledge this one simple fact about performance pay, they fail to provide any practical ideas regarding what to do about it:
The teachers – and their unions – aren’t going for it.
Their position on the issue is clear and inflexible, despite the supportive tone that is sometimes served up for public consumption. And the last attempt to fundamentally change NEA’s position on the issue – nine years ago – ended with a rare delegate revolt and a strengthening of the union’s opposition.
So while a lot of energy and resources are being expended to design the perfect system, or to collaborate with the unions to determine what kind of system they might accept, no one seems to want to face the fact that they are perfectly happy with the current system and don’t want it altered.
They don’t want it. Are you going to do it anyway, or not?