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Back to March Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 218 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS MARCH 2004

Panel Backs Merit Pay, Revamped Teacher Certification
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A study by the Teaching Commission advocates linking teacher pay to student performance and overhauling teacher certification. Both goals have long been opposed by teachers unions.

The 19-member privately funded panel of business and education leaders released a report in January entitled "Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action." Members include former IBM chief executive Lou Gerstner and former Education Secretary Richard Riley.

The authors point out that market incentives work in nearly every profession except teaching, where good teachers make no more money than bad ones. Teacher compensation is based on seniority and degrees rather than performance. This model also prevents school districts from paying teachers more to work in disadvantaged schools or to teach math and science (for which qualified teachers are scarce).

In addition, most school districts require teachers to complete an accredited teacher education program, but are notably lax about competence in the field being taught. According to the report, 38% of urban secondary-school students are taught by teachers who lack either a college major or certification in the subject they teach. A shocking 56% of all public high school students learn science from an "out-of-field" teacher.

In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal (2-3-04), a college biology professor lamented that he cannot move to a warmer climate and teach public high school science despite having a Ph.D. in microbiology, bachelor degrees in chemistry and zoology, and 23 years of teaching experience. "Though I am qualified to teach the teachers, it seems that I am unqualified to teach the students," he wrote.

"Teaching at Risk" was promptly criticized by the National Education Association. Sandra Feldman of the American Federation of Teachers, who co-signed the report as a panel member, nevertheless complained that it gave too much weight to basing pay on student achievement.

The report's recommendations are not new ideas and have already been tested in some areas. Dallas, New York, Denver and other cities have tried some form of merit pay in the last decade, and 200,000 people have become teachers through alternative certification programs (dispensing with lengthy education courses) since 1985.


 
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