Prepare for a (good) schools arms race

November 11, 2010
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Imagine a future in which Indiana school districts bid up salaries for star teachers to $100,000 or more to develop a district specialty in a field like science or math—and cause students to excel.

That scenario isn’t so far-fetched if Gov. Mitch Daniels, schools chief Tony Bennett and other reformers play their cards wisely in the upcoming General Assembly, says Jonathan Plucker, who directs the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy in Indiana University’s School of Education. In Plucker’s opinion, comprehensive reform would spark myriad micro arms races among school districts, and that stands to be a good thing.

Lawmakers “have a great opportunity here,” Plucker says. “I’m really hoping they seize it.”

First, some whopping caveats. Plucker isn’t advocating going back to the days when teachers were paid dirt and sometimes treated little better. Teachers unions aren’t leery of reform for no reason.

Plucker also cautions that legislation allowing schools to pay teachers for performance instead of just education levels and years of service won’t do the trick by itself. There will never be enough extra money to motivate lazy teachers, he says, and besides, the type of people who go into education aren’t terribly motivated by money.

Another big reform on the drawing board, open enrollment, won’t generate big returns in student learning in itself, either. Why would a parent want to move a child to another mediocre district?

However, he says, marry merit pay with open enrollment and the state has potential to see fireworks.

It isn’t difficult to imagine, say, Carmel, deciding to focus on science and pouring money into attracting the best and brightest teachers in the field. Star instructors would be paid six figures. To compensate for the high salaries, class sizes would rise and teachers in the remaining positions in English, art and other subjects would be paid well but not great.

Meanwhile, Hamilton Southeastern might look to math, while Zionsville might develop expertise in social studies. Even within districts, one elementary might specialize in one topic and another elementary a different topic.

Parents could shift their children from school to school to take advantage of the expertise.

“The day of the truly comprehensive school district is coming to an end,” Plucker says.

Plucker notes that the $100,000 projection appeared in a study by the conservative Fordham Foundation, and that it probably wouldn’t be far off if market forces were brought to bear on K-12 education. Teacher base salaries in many local districts currently top out in the mid- to high-$70,000 range, and in the low $90,000s when benefits are included.

What are your thoughts? How far should lawmakers go in the next session, and what changes would get the best results?

  • Excuse me...
    But your "imaginary" scenario of specialization is already happening in Indy, with IPS and public charters.

    Herron High School already ranks higher than Carmel, Fishers, HSE, or Zionsville. Their focus is a classical/liberal education. They can pay whatever they can afford for teachers.

    The Math-Science-Technology magnet at Tech has been around for a long time.

    School choice: it's not just a good idea, it's the law.
  • Won't Happen
    Mr. Plucker and that clown Tony Bennett are full of it. There will not be money to pay teachers that kind of money. With property caps in place and wimpy politiicans where is the money going to come from? Indiana K-12 schools were poorly funded before 2010, now it will be worse.
  • Plucker has been plucked
    Mr. Plucker doesn't know it yet but his comments were plucked from him like apples from a tree by Gov. Daniels and Supt. Bennett. The property tax caps, school choice and merit pay are all about busting the Teachers Unions in Indiana and nothing else. What easier way to do it then by merely drying up the funding source for public education, which the property tax cap has done and will continue to do. If only people would do a little research history will show that the reason we got public schools was because when this country had only private schools the only ones gaining an education were they children of the wealthy and that is exactly where good old Mitch and Bennett are taking us to now.
  • Sam Seaborn for President
    "Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We donâ??t need little changes. We need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. Thatâ??s my position. I just havenâ??t figured out how to do it yet." â??Sam Seaborn
  • Who has the choice???
    Giving a choice to families is great, but what if you are one of the MANY families that can't take advantage of that choice? I know other states that have school choice options, but the parents are required to transport their children. Now, imagine that family in IPS who works more than one job to make ends meet and uses public transportation. What choice do they have other than their neighborhood school where their child can ride the bus? Once again, the rich have the power and the ability to choose, but the poor and disadvantaged (who truly need the education!!!) are left in the dust.
  • Where?
    Were are you going to house all of these students you are giving choice to? Hamilton Southeastern is already so loaded they do not have classrooms to put new students. With Daniels referendum law in place on building buildings, it is difficult enough getting buildings to just meet growth.

    I used to work in Corporate America and left behind the madness and a lot more money to become a teacher. I work twice as hard as a teacher as I did at my office as an investments broker. Merit pay has no appeal to me. I would much rather see the classroom next to mine that is empty have a teacher hired to fill and reduce my class size so I can give each of my remaining students more attention. Raising class sizes and improving pay will not fix education as this author exists. Although I do not belong to the union myself because I object to how much money is sent to the national, it is clear the real goal of Daniels is to destroy the union so he can dictate some ideas that do not work. South Caroline tried merit pay on a larger level and it did not improve schools. Do the research.
  • Nice idea in fairy land
    How is merit pay working for current state employees since the Governor introduced it over 5 years ago?

    Nice concept, but in practice the state has frozen all salaries due to budget concerns and high profile promotions with large pay raises have gone to underperformers that have created huge problems and lost massive amounts of taxpayer money.

    Government Merit Pay is simply a joke that only politically connected insiders enjoy with money shifted from other state employees that are more deserving.
  • One-sided Coin
    State "merit pay" is all stick and no carrot.

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  1. I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican Mayor would lead the charge in attempting to raise every tax we have to pay. Now it's income taxes and property taxes that Ballard wants to increase. And to pay for a pre-K program? Many studies have shown that pre-K offer no long-term educational benefits whatsoever. And Ballard is pitching it as a way of fighting crime? Who is he kidding? It's about government provided day care. It's a shame that we elected a Republican who has turned out to be a huge big spending, big taxing, big borrowing liberal Democrat.

  2. Why do we blame the unions? They did not create the 11 different school districts that are the root of the problem.

  3. I was just watching an AOW race from cleveland in addition to the 65K for the race, there were more people in boats watching that race from the lake than were IndyCar fans watching the 2014 IndyCar season finale in the Fontana grandstands. Just sayin...That's some resurgence modern IndyCar has going. Almost profitable, nobody in the grandstands and TV ratings dropping 61% at some tracks in the series. Business model..."CRAZY" as said by a NASCAR track general manager. Yup, this thing is purring like a cat! Sponsors...send them your cash, pronto!!! LOL, not a chance.

  4. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  5. Funny people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............