Randi Weingarten is talented at making crazy ideas sound sensible. Today she claims in a Huffington Post op-ed that "you can't make a thorough and objective decision about a teacher's qualifications without a valid evaluation system." (That is, a national one endorsed by the AFT.) She supports this assertion with a vague reference to school administrators' "arbitrary and subjective judgment."

Of course, in the rest of the professional world managers strive to make thorough and objective decisions about their workers without a universal evaluation system. Marketers, engineers, and event planners do not need national "frameworks" and "continuous improvement models" in order to be evaluated by their managers (much less to be fired for malfeasance). It doesn't work perfectly, but it works. Why, in Weingarten's eyes, are teachers so different?

Her op-ed employs the clever trick of arguing that common ground is not that far away, if only those stubborn reformers would be willing to give up and agree with the unions. I'd call that a tautology ? if you'd only agree with my position, we wouldn't be fighting!

This is nearly as insidious as Rick Hess's favorite "it's for the kids" line. Weingarten lays out...

Young teachers turned around a poorly-performing elementary school in Oakland, and now they're all at risk of being fired in a LIFO (seniority-based) layoff mandated by state law:

Futures, previously known as Lockwood Elementary, was redesigned in 2007 and a particularly young staff was hired to change the school's old reputation as a place that held low expectations for its low-income and minority students.

The state education code holds no provisions for performance, though. Instead, it dictates that layoffs must be made in order of seniority. Most Futures teachers have been in the classroom for fewer than five years.

?What did we do the redesign for?? asked the school's principal, Steven Daubenspeck.

The union president blames the school's principal. She implies that all teachers are interchangeable widgets, so he should have kept the school's low-performing senior teachers instead of trying to turn the school around using new blood:

The president of the Oakland teachers' union, Betty Olson-Jones, said she feels for the teachers of Futures Elementary and that she plans to visit the school. However, she said, small school leaders ? like those at Futures ? that hired young teachers over older ones when they were


One of the most striking arguments made against Republican governors' efforts to curtail the bargaining rights of teachers is that it's an "attack on the middle class." I'm more sympathetic to that line of reasoning than you might think; for all their evils, unions have been successful in giving millions of people a path to prosperity. And, as I was reminded at my grandmother's (a.k.a. "Nonnie's") funeral this past weekend, many of my second and third-generation Italian-American family members benefited from employment in public-sector, union-protected jobs. [quote]

But is it true, for teachers at least, that unions are necessary to ensure good wages? That when collective bargaining is disallowed, teacher pay plummets? I was curious, so I dug into data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The group collects information on teacher pay, benefits, and much more in its tr3 database for more than 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states. I broke out the districts in non-collective bargaining states (those where the practice is illegal--namely, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia)--and compared them to the rest. And I looked at the maximum salary a teacher with a bachelor's degree...

So, I watched Katie Couric's 60 Minutes segment about The Equity Project (TEP) charter in New York City. It was all wine and roses school reform, with 34-year-old principal Keith Vanderhoek walking and talking with the swagger of a man who knows what he's doing:? he pays teachers $125,000 -- yes, a great wage --?by cutting costs elsewhere (the school is housed in trailers), having no tenure ? the teachers don't even get a contract ? and by laying off?teachers?when they aren't performing.? So, it was somewhat sad, at the end, when Couric says,

But is the model working? When the fifth graders took the New York State math and reading exams, the results were disappointing. On average, other schools in the district scored better than TEP.? Some people watching this might be thinking, "Hey, they're paying teachers $125,000 a year. They've attracted the best and the brightest. These results don't really add up."

The camera cut back to Vanderhoek and to my eyes I saw the previously self-assured and articulate young man look as if the blood had drained from his face. I thought I saw sweat.?

"We don't have a magic wand,? he said,?a...

Much ink has been spilled in the past week over what the pay for performance experiment in New York City's public school system means. Roland Fryer's finding that the NYC pay scheme didn't improve student achievement does not imply that differentiated pay for teachers doesn't work, however. In fact, I'm inclined to borrow a phrase from Chesterton: merit pay has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried at all.

Merit pay trials in the US have mostly followed a familiar pattern: they're structured as one-time bonuses and are tied to some kind of objective measure like test scores or teacher value-added. This may look superficially similar to professionals' compensation on Wall Street and in the nation's top law firms, but crucial components are missing that make up true merit pay in the professional working world.

Permanent raises based on merit provide a more meaningful incentive than annual bonuses, though the latter are a helpful supplement. Performance-based raises tell professionals that they're hitting milestones on the way to full professional effectiveness (or not), and they communicate the worker's long-term value to an organization. One-time bonuses that sit on top of a...

I don't always agree with Marc Tucker but he knows a heckuva lot about how other countries organize their education systems; and it turns out that knowledge extends to how their teacher unions have evolved, what roles the unions play, and how their bargaining processes work. The differences set forth in his exceptionally interesting new paper?between the U.S. and northern Europe are enlightening, even provocative. And he's got at least 3/4 of an important point when he describes the need to reform U.S.-style collective bargaining without alienating all the teachers at a time when we need their cooperation in sundry education reforms. You can find his paper here.

?Chester E. Finn, Jr.

I almost didn't get past the second sentence of Nicholas Kristof's brilliant NY Times essay this morning, as he opened with mention of Wisconsin and the ?pernicious fallacy? he?said the fracas there had generated: that teachers are over-paid. ?I didn't know that was the takeaway, but it's a worthwhile deception if it tempts education traditionalists to read this gem of a story.?

Kristof doesn't tread new ground here, but he dexterously handles three important issues at the heart of the teacher problem:? the talent gap, the salary gap, and the union practices which exacerbate the two.? And admitting that he's a ?novice? on education issues, the?veteran columnist?also has a refreshingly perceptive sidebar blog post in which he explains the origins of his new curiosity about the subject:

My interest in education arises from its role as a long-term driver of economic competitiveness and its role as an effective tool to chip away at poverty. In general, anti-poverty programs in America haven't been enormously effective, and increasingly I've come to believe that education (early childhood, k-12 and tertiary) is among the tools that really can work. The best study of this is ?Race Between Education and Technology,?


Don't miss Katie Couric's 60 Minutes report this Sunday on a New York City charter school that pays teachers lots of money but gives them no tenure. ?What we're trying to do is build a school where every teacher is a great teacher,??The Equity Project?founding principal Keith Vanderhoek tells Couric. ?

It promises to be a good story. But I like the part where Couric says, with almost breathless bewilderment,?that $125,000 ?is a lot of money for a teacher in this country.??? Hah.? In New York City, as Katie should know,?that's practically homeless!

But stay tuned; rather, tune in, but don't drop out.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow