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 think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...