Performance-Pay Plans Expanding across U.S

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

Performance-Pay Plans Expanding across U.S


Byline: Vaishali Honawar, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Programs that reward teachers for performance rather than seniority are gaining political momentum across the nation, despite lingering opposition from unions and the lack of clear evidence such plans work.

Eleven states now have statewide performance-pay programs for teachers, including Alaska, Georgia and Texas. There are federally funded or district-implemented programs in 26 states.

Utah last month passed a performance-pay program, and in Minnesota the Republican governor wants to expand an existing one. Legislators in South Carolina and Missouri are weighing bills that would reward teachers for better classroom performance.

Performance pay has been a conservative idea for a long time, and now people across all ideologies are saying it makes sense, said Mike Antonucci, a teachers union watchdog who publishes an online newsletter.

The plans indeed appear destined to mushroom after President Obama made a pitch for them in a speech outlining his vision for education reform. Already, Mr. Obama's federal stimulus package includes $200 million in funding for performance-pay pilot programs in up to 150 more school districts. However, this puts him at odds with teachers unions that have long resisted any changes to how teachers are paid.

The nation's largest teachers union, the 3.2 million-member National Education Association (NEA), opposed the performance-pay plan included in the renewal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The NEA failed to endorse Mr. Obama until late in the presidential campaign. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), with 1.4 million members, backed candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, turning to Mr. Obama only after he won the Democratic nomination.

In the District, an ambitious performance-pay plan proposed by D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is stuck after continuing opposition from the Washington Teachers' Union.

Yet, some signs suggest that unions are starting to come around to the idea of performance pay. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said his union is not opposed to such plans if they are bargained between local school districts and unions. On the other hand, he added, if performance pay means the failed merit-pay plans of the past, if it means plans based on student test scores, the union would oppose them.

Some teachers unions, including the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, which is led by AFT President Randi Weingarten, have worked with districts to implement performance-pay plans they consider fair. …

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