Obama: Put Teachers on Federal Payroll

Back to September 2012 Ed Reporter

Obama: Put Teachers on Federal Payroll

President Obama has announced plans to form a national corps of “Master Teachers” who would be paid by the federal government. This is the first proposal that would put federal tax dollars directly into local teachers’ hands.

“If America is going to compete for the jobs and industries of tomorrow,” said President Obama, “we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible. Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support.”

If the proposed plan goes into effect, $1 billion in federal funds would go to reward top-performing educators with bonuses of up to $20,000 annually in an attempt to boost student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes. 50 of these teachers would be placed in 50 sites in order to “recognize and help retain America’s most talented STEM teachers, build a community of practice among them, raise the profile of the STEM teaching profession, and leverage excellent teachers to collaborate with their peers to strengthen STEM education in America’s public schools.”

Teachers would be selected based on “demonstrated effectiveness in teaching one or more STEM subjects” and their “contributions to the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.” Teacher effectiveness criteria would be determined at the local level. It’s not clear what these criteria will be; the White House defined “Master teachers” as those who “know and are deeply interested in their subject, care about improving their craft, and inspire both their students and fellow teachers.”

The Heritage Foundation wrote of this:

The only robust and reliable predictor of a teacher’s effectiveness is his or her past performance in the classroom. Licenses, certifications, advanced degrees, and hours of professional development have little to no impact on what students actually learn from their teachers. Paying for more of these qualifications would not lead to better student outcomes. But even if the “Master Teacher Corps” program does reward objective classroom performance . . . the new money will come on top of existing teacher contracts that often have gym teachers on the same pay scale as STEM teachers. More federal dollars for teachers will either exacerbate our existing irrational teacher pay system or – at best – postpone fundamental reforms at the local level.

It’s unlikely that Congress will approve the initiative’s $1 billion price tag. That cost is just for 2013, and we can expect it to rise: the White House already has plans to expand the program to include 10,000 teachers in four years. An aide to Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, told the Associated Press that the federal government already has more than 80 teacher quality programs, noting that it would be foolish to pay for duplicative or unproductive programs.