Obama’s Race to the Top competition won’t fix public schools
Competition may bring out the best in business and sports, but that logic doesn’t necessarily apply to public schools. The practical way to mend the educational system is by implementing economic and social reforms that focus on the children.
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Performance pay for teachers has not fared any better. In the 2005-06 school year, Texas introduced a merit pay plan for teachers. It offered $100 million in bonuses at 1,150 schools if teachers raised their students’ test scores. But in May 2009, the Texas Educator Excellence Grant was quietly retired after getting lackluster results, even though payments to teachers were based overwhelmingly on the test scores of their students.Skip to next paragraph
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These examples reinforce the overall finding of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University. It reported no conclusive data on the power of financial awards to promote more effective teaching and elevate student performance, nor on the long-term effect of performance awards on the supply of effective teachers.
Teachers are not motivated by the same factors that shape the behavior of those in business. In Texas, for example, more than three-fourths of teachers eligible for performance pay said the bonuses had no effect on the way they taught.
Moreover, nearly half of new teachers who leave the profession within the first five years consistently have reported that salaries were not the No. 1 factor in their departure. They quit because of frustration over not being able to teach the way they were trained.
Sign-up incentives and so-called combat pay have not proved effective in inducing a critical mass of teachers to teach and remain in the inner cities and rural areas where they are needed the most. Despite the headlines of a bump in teachers due to the job market, those who have sought shelter from the current recession by teaching are likely to leave the profession once the economy recovers.
The best empirical evidence raises sharp questions about relying on charter schools and merit pay as the principal means of remedying the country’s educational ills. Yet the Obama administration seems to ignore it. If Obama were the pragmatic president he claims to be, he would realize that schools by themselves cannot possibly heal the education system.
The goal of a healthier education system can be achieved only by the implementation of economic and social reforms aimed at narrowing the differences in the backgrounds of children whom schools serve. Whether we have the will to take the unprecedented steps necessary, however, is entirely another matter.
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