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"Obama Effect" Aids Merit-Pay Push

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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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This is all GOOD news. Finally, schools will be able to do away with the meaningless subjective evaluations of the past where administrators gave everyone an automatic commendable review.

My only reservation is student placements. There will have to be an equitable distribution of high, average, and low students as well as LD and behavioral problems. No one teacher deserves to have all the problems dumped in their classroom. This will have to be addressed locally and can be managed if the administrator and the local union agree to an amicable and, again, equitable, process.

All this being said, test the kids at the beginning and end of the year and let the chips fall where they may. Then let's FINALLY see which teachers are and which teachers are not getting the job done. From there I'm in favor of using the results to improve instruction. Get those folks who need the help all the professional development they need. Then, if they're unable or unwilling to amend their ways, they need to be encouraged to seek alternative employment.

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