Teaching Profession

“Obama Effect” Aids Merit-Pay Push

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 01, 2009 1 min read

Education Next has a fascinating new survey on the “Obama effect” (full coverage from Education Week here).

About 43 percent of Americans said they supported basing part of a teacher’s salary on his or her students’ progress on state tests. But, when told about Obama’s support for the systems, 13 percent more of the public favor the idea. Increases also appeared among these key groups:

• Support increased among African-Americans by 23 percentage points (to 55 percent).
• Support among Democrats increased by 15 percentage points (to 56 percent).
• Among teachers, support rose 19 percentage points (to 31 percent).

Teachers are still fairly uncomfortable with performance pay, but it seems significant to me that many more of them trust that if Obama supports it, there must be something to the idea.

There’s also no doubt this finding is troubling for the teachers’ unions. As I speculated a few months back, it’s going to be harder for the unions to say “no” with a pro-labor Democrat pushing for these kinds of reform.

The survey was conducted in March, and clearly the president’s popularity has decreased somewhat since then, so you may have to take these findings with a grain of salt.

Also of interest, support for merit pay climbed by only 6 percent when respondents were exposed to positive research evidence on the issue. Seems the Obama endorsement is more powerful than that of scholars.

(I’m not at all sure just where this “positive research evidence” referred to in the study comes from. Research on performance-based pay is still nascent, and many of the best studies were conducted in other countries with entirely different schooling systems.)

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