Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Craig's right, I'm wrong 

Craig Westover and I have been conversing by email on the merits of the Q-Comp proposal that passed in special session. After reading the bill and Craig's analysis, I'm going to retract my support for Q-Comp. They gutted it at the last minute, which is why the ed borg has not roared.

That said, let me add a little economic reasoning here. We know that people respond to incentives and that applies to teachers as much as anyone else. Whether or not Q-Comp is a replacement or a supplement to lanes and steps, which Craig criticizes greatly, isn't very important to me: If the supplement is large enough, and if it is reward for the right kinds of behavior, it's fine by me to leave lanes and steps in place.

Nor should it be an issue whether the borg roars or not: Teachers need to buy into the fact that they are going to be rewarded for something that is objectively measured and something that their efforts can in fact control. That is important: The problem teachers have, from the ones I speak with, is that the accountability tests on which the performance is based measures something over which the teacher has little influence. I don't see that as being an unreasonable position to take; proponents of more accountability need to show the connection between teacher effort, teacher reward and student achievement. If it's just more achievement-->more reward, reward might simply go to teachers who luck into better students. (Twenty years of teaching college students has taught me that classes don't begin with the same level of students. My last two classes have had absolutely wonderful students; a class last fall in principles had a number of ill-prepared students. That line about making chicken salad applies here.)

This is not to deny that Craig's right and I'm wrong. Craig's right because of this analysis (quoting from the legislation and his commentary):

Struck from the original was all language that referred to �replacing� the step and lane salary schedule and years-of-service-based pay replaced with the following --

(3) reform the �steps and lanes� salary schedule, prevent any teacher�s compensation paid before implementing the pay system from being reduced as a result of participating in this system, and base at least 60 percent of any compensation increase on teacher performance using:

Okay, here�s where the rubber meets the road, or rather where the program spins out of control. Teacher performance can be measured using --

. . . school wide student achievement gains under [MCA�s] or locally selected standardized assessment outcomes, or both.

In other words, �teacher performance� means whatever a district or site in conjunction with the teacher�s union says it means. A list of six items follows that �clarifies� the latter with more obscurity. It is basically an outline for professional development at taxpayer expense, not pay for performance. Number (6) is especially interesting in a �merit pay� program� --

. . . encourage collaboration rather than competition among teachers.

The problem is, once again, the misunderstanding that labor competes with labor and firms or school districts compete with other firms or school districts. It is this part, and this alone, that convinces me Craig is right. A union is a cartel; it acts to restrain competition among laborers within a firm (and often those outside). A merit pay system by its very nature encourages competition among teachers.

A teachers' union which wanted to show its professionalism and its concern for students would allow competition among teachers. But for a union, that's an argument against interest. The answer, of course, is real school choice.