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Democratic Candidates on Merit Pay: Teachers’ Unions Have Nothing to Worry About

By Michele McNeil — November 16, 2007 1 min read

In last night’s Democratic debate on CNN, the seven presidential candidates were asked whether they were in favor of the very controversial issue of merit pay for teachers, which is generally fiercely opposed by some of the Democrats’ biggest supporters—the teachers’ unions.

None of the candidates came out in favor of the kind of merit pay in which individual teachers are paid more based on their results in the classroom. Interestingly, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who is the only Democratic candidate to openly support and talk about merit pay for individual teachers on the campaign trail, didn’t jump in to tackle the issue during last night’s debate. You can read the transcript here.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said she favors “school-based” merit pay, which would reward all teachers and staff members in a high-achieving school regardless of their individual abilities. That’s very different than rewarding individual teachers for excelling in their jobs. “The school is a team, and I think it’s important that we reward that collaboration,” she said. When pressed about whether bad teachers in a school that is otherwise excelling should be given merit pay, she said those bad teachers should be “weed(ed) out.” Opponents, of course, say that’s easier said than done when teachers’ contracts and unions make it very difficult for school districts to do just that.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, of Connecticut, the first to answer, said he would be in favor of a pay system for teachers who go into poor, rural, or difficult schools and make a difference—but didn’t want a merit-pay system that rewarded teachers who taught in “better neighborhoods.”

Sen. Joseph Biden, of Delaware, whose wife is a community college English instructor, said teachers should be judged and rewarded by what they do outside of the classroom — such as get advanced degrees.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson didn’t really answer the question, but used his time to bash the No Child Left Behind Act and declare that he would be the next education president.

The general message from Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is that, if he is elected, the teachers’ unions would have a very good friend in the White House, which he said would be a “worker’s White House.” When asked whether he disagreed with the teachers’ unions on any issue, he didn’t name a single one.