Several newspapers and TV stations, including the Daily Times here on the Shore, recently carried an article discussing the increased use of 'performance pay' in Maryland schools. According to the article, Prince George's County schools are instituting a series of 'performance bonuses' for teachers while Harford and Anne Arundel schools offer modest performance bonuses to principals.
Now, if you believe, as I do, that government has the power to improve people's lives, you must also demand that government, at all levels, perform at the highest levels of effectiveness and be transparently accountable to the taxpayers. After all, money to run the government is not contributed voluntarily but is taken involuntarily. If we fail to demand and expect the highest levels of performance from our government then we are playing into the hands of those to whom all taxes are anathema and government is just a wasteful boondoggle.
And in many areas, government is becoming more accountable. In Maryland, Governor O'Malley has introduced 'statestat' and 'baystat' which, although imperfectly, try to publicly and transparently measure the performance of the various state agencies. And in many areas of the government, pay has been tied to performance, although the measures are sometimes crude and the system is often not administered in a transparent fashion.
But not in education. For some reason or other, we don't pay our teachers according to their performance. The primary reason for this, of course, is the violent opposition of the teachers themselves. They would have us believe that there is no way to effectively measure the performance of teachers and that, anyway, they're all good.
Of course, that's absurd. Anyone who's been a student or anyone who is a parent of a student can tell you that there are good teachers and bad teachers and, quite probably, can tell you, with a fair degree of unanimity, which are good and which are not.
Many of our school systems have salaries based on performance for other staff but not for teachers. Somerset County schools have performance pay for secretaries, custodians, receptionists, classroom aides, cafeteria workers and administrators - but not for teachers. Here in Worcester County, there is no thought to performance pay for teachers. According to the spokeswoman as long as they get enough money, they'll do fine.
And that's the crux of the matter. For most of our local jurisdictions, schools take the lion's share of the budget. And they get what they ask for almost always - cut their budget request by even a small fraction of a percent and there will be predictions of doom.
Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am a big fan of education. It's the key to our ability to compete in a global economy and to the relatively high income levels we enjoy in Maryland. And that's even more reason why we should have the highest expectations of our educational establishments and our teachers and why they should be held to the highest standards of accountability and transparency.