Teacher merit pay on Denver ballot

By Krista Kafer krista555@msn.com You know you’re not in Kansas anymore when a union, a large, urban school system, and prominent Democrats support a teacher merit pay program. This weekend, U.S. Senator Ken Salazar joined Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Denver Public School (DPS) Superintendent Michael Bennetm and City Council President Rosemary Rodriguez in supporting ProComp, a program to reward teachers for professional excellence . The program, devised by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools would link pay to classroom performance and surpassing expectations .On November 1, Denver residents must decide whether to fund the program. If passed, Ballot Question 3A will establish a $25 million tax increase for this purpose.

According to the New York Times only five states – Arizona, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico and North Carolina – have merit pay programs. Another five – Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Carolina – partner with the Milken Family Foundation to provide professional development incentive programs.

Recently Mitt Romney, governor of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, proposed a performance pay program that could give teachers an extra $5,000 a year. Several governors including Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, have proposed reward teachers for performance this year according to the National Council for Teacher Quality.

In Colorado, DPS is not the first district to try a merit pay program. The Douglas County School District instituted a performance pay system in 1994. In 2003, reformers introduced a teacher performance program in the small Ignacio School District, located in southwestern Colorado. The Ignacio Market Driven Compensation Plan (IMDCP) would have allowed teachers to opt into a new system where employment status and salary levels were based on classroom performance and the fulfillment of district expectations. Unions and their political allies ensured the program went nowhere. A recent paper by the Independence Institute’s Ben DeGrow describes the rise and fall of the program. He urges the General Assembly to pass legislation to pave the way for district reforms.

Despite the efforts of reformers, the vast majority of school systems in Colorado and the rest of the nation continue to pay teachers according to the number of years in the system and the level of post-secondary education. In other words, if the Teacher-of-the-Year and the teacher you never want your kid to get have the same college degree and have worked the same number of years, they’re going to be paid the same. Is that fair for hard working teachers or kids? How about parents and taxpayers?

I’ve worked a lot of jobs in my life. I’ve taught classes, advised politicians, delivered pizzas, tutored students, wrote policy papers, sold jewelry, clothes, kites, holograms and other stuff, cleaned houses, filed campaign reports, cleaned cars, scooped ice cream, wired money, cashiered, answered phones, cleaned dental equipment, manufactured pneumatic machine parts, and mended clothes.

The best companies that I’ve worked for used a variable pay rate rather than a standard schedule. Rates depended on the initial negotiated amount, length of service, work ethic, talent, attendance, and general affability. While talent and work ethic may not be as important for say manufacturing pneumatic parts or cleaning dental equipment, it is central to jobs where success depends on strong interpersonal skills, honed abilities and hard work. Teaching, for example.