In discussing teacher merit pay in Australia, many commentators take the chance to beat up on teacher unions for opposing it (either directly, or indirectly by dressing up pay-for-credentials schemes as merit pay). I’ve generally tried to avoid such an approach, partly because I think merit pay is extremely difficult from a teacher union leader perspective.
In the US, the best writing on this issue has come from Andrew Rotherham at Ed Sector, who has run a number of conferences to bring together union leaders and merit pay advocates. His latest paper is now up. Here’s a quote from the conclusion:
In 2004, Sandra Feldman, the late President of the American Federation of Teachers said, â€œTo pay teachers a lot more, and a lot sooner in their careers, we would have to redesign the compensation system. Along with significantly raising pay across the board, on top of the current schedules, we would have to find a way to reward different roles, responsibilities, knowledge, skills and, yes, results.â€
If that sounds forward-looking, thatâ€™s because it was and still is today. Despite a great deal of debate and some innovation, there is still more heat than light around performance-based pay or differentiated pay for teachers. Improvements in data, new initiatives, and even the support of some local teachersâ€™ unions for innovating with teacher pay, have paradoxically raised the stakes for teachersâ€™ unions in this debate. No longer can they easily stand on the rhetorical position that theyâ€™d support new ideas if only they were well-designed and fair. Such ideas are now within reach.
Teachersâ€™ union leaders are thinking about these issues and recognize that younger teachers may want different things than veterans. Yet the dynamics of leading an organization mean that leaders are cross-pressured between demands for change, legitimate concerns about what is in the best interest of their members and the organization, and, as the Denver experience illustrates, disagreement within their ranks.
Update, March 10: Rotherham has a punchy little oped on this topic in today’s NYT.