Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama takes on teachers' unions regarding merit pay

Obama eyes sweeping overhaul of education
Jonathan Martin
Mar 10, 2009

...President Barack Obama Tuesday for the first time confronted a powerful constituency in his own party: teachers’ unions.

Obama proposed spending additional money on effective teachers in up to 150 additional school districts, fulfilling a campaign promise that once earned him boos from members of the National Education Association.

“Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement, and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools,” he said in a wide-ranging education speech before a meeting of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

Obama’s embrace of merit pay won’t go over well among a group that often provides key funding and foot soldiers for Democratic campaigns.

Teachers’ unions say merit pay causes teachers to compete against each other, rather than collaborate, and is unfair to those who work in disadvantaged areas where it can be harder to boost student performance.

But polls show the policy is overwhelmingly supported by the public...

In addition to rewarding good teachers, Obama also said he’ll seek to push out those who aren’t getting results, another proposal that may rankle a profession that prizes tenure.

“Let me be clear: if a teacher is given a chance, or two chances, or three chances, and still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching,” he told the business group. “I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences. The stakes are too high. We can afford nothing but the best when it comes to our children’s teachers and to the schools where they teach.”

The White House didn’t specify how the president would like to see poor-performing teachers removed from the classroom.

Obama did lavish praise on the profession – going off script at one point to note that his sister is a teacher...

Instead, Obama confronted the powerful bloc of his own party – one in ten delegates at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 belonged to teachers unions – with unambiguous language.

He said the country had let its “teacher quality fall short” and said reforms were needed as much as the additional funding the unions crave.

“It is time to start rewarding good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones,” Obama declared.

It wasn’t just teachers, though, that came in for some tough talk. He seemed to also address students and parents in calling for consideration of expanding the school-year into the summer and adopting a calendar that many other industrialized nations already have.

“We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day,” Obama said...

Notably, Obama said little about No Child Left Behind, the federal education standards set by President George W. Bush that are despised by teachers’ unions...

On Tuesday, he only mentioned it only to say that later this year he would see that it “live[s] up to its name by ensuring not only that teachers and principals get the funding they need, but that the money is tied to results.

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