Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Improved Westover column points up economic arguments 

Good writers are good editors of their own work. Craig Westover has revised his original notes on Q-Comp into his "hobby column" in the Pioneer Press and it's much, much better. This point need amplification:
The "Professional Pay System" was negotiated outside the Education Working Group in closed-door session among Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Commissioner of Education Alice Seagren, Senate Education Policy Chairman Steve Kelley, D-Hopkins, and House Education Finance Chairwoman Barb Sykora, R-Excelsior.

Notable by his exclusion was House Education Policy and Reform Chairman Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, one of the most reform-minded members of the working group, a frequent and effective counter to Kelly's protectiveness of system status quo, and co-author of the "meaningful school choice" legislation that was one of Pawlenty's big four proposals in return for the cigarette tax.

Neither Buesgens nor the co-sponsor of the school choice legislation, Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, had discussions with the governor about school choice legislation during the special session. Nor, they say, did the governor's staff return their phone calls. Meaningful school choice, it appears, was never a meaningful option. When push came to shove, it was children who were pushed aside to shove more compensation to adults for improving their resum�s.

Compared to the (at least) two-year planning and implementation cycle before students receive any benefit from their newly "developed" teachers, meaningful school choice would have had an immediate impact on children and the state budget. According to the fiscal note prepared by the state, the Hann/Buesgens legislation would have cost the state an additional $2 million in 2006 and returned a net savings to the general fund of more than $8 million in 2007 (compared to the $78 million cost of the Alternative Pay System).

"Government can't fix the system. That's a silly concept," Buesgens said. "Markets and people make education decisions."

He's right. Merit pay is reward for performance set by whom one serves, not self-determined, vague criteria with no objective reality. Parental school choice � the ability to opt out of the system if dissatisfied � creates a very objective reality.

"We squandered a lot of money," Buesgens said. "And we didn't get any reform."
The failure of Pawlenty and Seagren to consult Hann and Buesgens, let alone include them in the working group, is simply inexcusable. These people represent the concerns of a fair number of people working on education policy. They are part of the base that helped elect Pawlenty. Did they not deserve at least a hearing and an explanation of why the Q-Comp went the direction it did? And here was a plan that could have saved the state money and reduced the need for the cigarette tax increase.

Buesgens understands incentives. In a comment on my post on this topic yesterday, Michael (whose blog, alas, has been shuttered -- a pity, that) thinks teachers who respond to financial incentives are per se bad teachers.
Teaching is a calling, not a job. Great teachers are born, not made and economic incentives don�t work for teachers. There is only one incentive that works on teachers. FREEDOM!

Freedom to explore and create is the only thing that will excite good teachers. It is the only thing that will turn children into students.

Soooo, if you want great teachers, offer them an economic incentive program and fire all the ones that accept it. Give all the ones who don�t 20 kids in a class and let them go to college in the summer for free to learn more about anything they want. Pay them a middle class wage and ask them occasionally what they are up to. That is how you will get the best teaching force. (Bold in original; italics added by kb)
I suppose you expect me to snark, but let's not. I am perfectly willing to believe, based on what I know about Michael and his teaching and what his students have written about him, that he would teach for love of teaching alone (as long as he can afford Perrier.) I don't doubt he loves his job, and I'll even venture to guess he's a very good teacher. And I'll stipulate to the notion that Michael will not be affected by a merit pay system because he's already busting his ass for his students, and that he has no more ass to bust. AND I'll stipulate that Michael travels in a circle of fellow teachers who do the same because they share the same interest in good teaching.

But he's still missing the point, which is this: How do you find more Michaels when you have more students? There is not an infinite supply of Michaels in the world; there are competing claims for their time and talent outside of teaching. We don't pay finance professors double what we pay history professors because the finance professors are any better; we pay them that way because there are more competing claims willing to pay more for a talented PhD in finance than for a the talented PhD in history.

Michael may not see this because he assumes everyone is like his circle of friends. And he may wish that others acted like that circle. But it cannot. The market operates on teachers whether or not Michael likes it. If he wants more talented people teaching around him, he should support economic incentives.