Teacher Preparation

At Ed Debate, Sparks Fly Over Merit Pay, TFA

By Vaishali Honawar — October 22, 2008 2 min read
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Yesterday’s testy education debate between Barack Obama’s education adviser, Linda Darling-Hammond, and John McCain’s education aide, Lisa Graham Keegan, got even testier when subjects like teacher performance pay and alternative-preparation routes like Teach For America cropped up. (To watch the whole debate at Teachers’ College, register here).

On performance pay, the fight came down to which one is better: a career-ladder and peer-evaluation approach that Darling-Hammond touted, or a let’s-pay-teachers-who-raise-student-scores approach that Keegan held up.

Calling performance pay a “key part” of McCain’s education program, Keegan described a plan in which school principals should be the people in charge of evaluating their own staff. McCain, she said, would like to have federal money go directly to schools so principals can reward teachers primarily on the basis of student achievement.

But, she added, inevitably, the unions just won’t come on board. “We have so many constraints around being able to pay teachers for their own performance, mostly in the bargained agreements, that there is no way to do it now,” she said.

Darling-Hammond touted an approach that the unions also endorse, in which new teachers get professional development and support from expert mentors who also make a decision about tenure.

Teachers who are rewarded, said Darling-Hammond, would “need to demonstrate excellence in the classroom and evidence of contributions to student learning and achievement.”

Then followed a charged argument over which performance-pay plan is better: Arizona’s 2-decade-old career-ladder program, or Florida’s now-on-ice performance-pay program that bases a good part of the teacher bonuses on test scores.

“I’m sorry to say that Arizona’s career-ladder program has not had a profound effect on achievement,” said Keegan, who was that state’s superintendent of public instruction between 1994 and 2001. There were no statistics cited, but Keegan held that Florida’s plan, on the other hand, had a bigger close in the achievement gap than any other in the country.

Watch their exchange on performance pay here:

When the debate veered to teacher quality, Keegan put forth Teach For America, which recruits fresh graduates and asks them to commit to two years of teaching in high-needs schools.

McCain, she said, would expand TFA using professional-development funds from Title II of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“So why don’t you do that?” she queried Darling-Hammond. “Why don’t you expand that program and dedicate dollars to that?”

Darling-Hammond raised concerns about the retention rates of TFA teachers and reeled off statistics citing that 49 percent of teachers who come in without training leave teaching within three years, while only 19 percent that come fully trained through teacher programs do so.

Watch their exchange on Teach for America here:

The two education advisers also debated their candidates’ stances on
teacher preparation. Watch that exchange here:

As for who won, we’ll let you folks decide that.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.