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Teacher-Pay Issue Is Hot in DNC Discussions

August 25, 2008 2 min read

Teacher pay may be the biggest education issue at the Democratic National Convention.

At today’s premier education discussion happening in conjunction with the convention, the wide-ranging debate seemed to keep coming back to how to compensate teachers, addressing such issues as whether to offer extra pay for teachers in schools facing the biggest challenges, for improving their students’ test scores, and other innovative proposals. The issue is particularly salient considering the ideas put forth by Sen. Barack Obama on performance-based pay for teachers.

Although the two-hour discussion touched on a variety of topics, such as improving the quality of standards, extending learning time in schools, panelists representing a variety of perspectives agreed that schools need to find new ways to set teachers’ pay.

“I can’t think of any other profession that doesn’t have any rewards for excellence,” Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, who has supported a variety of experiments with teacher pay and other reform measures, said at the event organized by the Rocky Mountain Roundtable, a group of Denver corporations and foundations that has organized discussions on a variety of issues to coincide with the convention.

Even John Wilson, the executive director of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, said his union is open to experiments with alternatives to the traditional pay scales, which set teachers’ salaries based on their experience and their education level.

“That’s a significant statement from the executive director of the largest teachers’ union in the United States,” said Thomas Toch, a co-director of Education Sector, a Washington think tank.

Many of those critics portrayed the teachers’ union’s opposition to innovative pay plans as one of the biggest roadblocks to improving schools at an event on Sunday.

But Wilson is unlikely to satisfy the union’s critics. In an interview after the discussion, he said the union would support plans that “focus on the practice of teaching.”

“You need to put the focus on the practice,” he said. “If you’re a good teacher, you will drive outcomes.”

In particular, the NEA endorses extra pay for teachers who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, he added.

But it wouldn’t support plans that are based on teachers’ ability to improve students’ test scores.

The union opposes pay decisions based on the results of “a single test on a single day, multiple choice, bubble sheets” because they aren’t good measures of teachers’ success helping students, he said.

-- David J. Hoff

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