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The Ed. Debate, in Dribs and Drabs

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The presidential candidates have been jousting over immigration, Iran, Iraq, and energy policy in their debates. Now, Democratic contender Christopher J. Dodd, for one, thinks it’s time for education issues to get more attention.

During a Nov. 15 debate in Las Vegas, the Connecticut senator said there ought to be a “single debate on education.”

That hasn’t happened, and probably won’t, with just three more Democratic gatherings scheduled before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. The Republicans have a debate scheduled for Nov. 28 and another one Jan. 5.

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Still, the recent Democratic debate, sponsored by CNN, did prompt one education-specific question. The seven participating candidates were asked whether they favor merit pay for teachers, which is generally fiercely opposed by some of the Democrats’ biggest supporters—teachers’ unions.

None of the candidates came out in favor of the kind of performance pay in which individual teachers are paid more based on their results in the classroom. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the only Democratic candidate to back merit pay for individual teachers, didn’t have a chance to tackle the question that night.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said she favors “school-based” merit pay, which would reward all teachers and staff members in a high-achieving school regardless of their individual performance.

“The school is a team, and I think it’s important that we reward that collaboration,” Sen. Clinton said. When pressed about whether bad teachers in a school that is otherwise excelling should be given merit pay, she said that such teachers should be “weed[ed] out.”

Sen. Dodd said he would favor a pay system that benefits teachers who go into poor, rural, or difficult schools and make a difference—but he didn’t want a merit-pay system that rewarded teachers who taught in “better neighborhoods.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, whose wife is a community college English instructor, said teachers should be judged and rewarded by what they do outside the classroom, such as getting advanced degrees—which in part is how teachers are compensated now.

Vol. 27, Issue 13, Page 19

Published in Print: November 28, 2007, as The Ed. Debate, in Dribs and Drabs

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