The Obama education reform plan was unveiled earlier this week to somewhat mixed reviews, particularly from the NEA union. We’ve seen education reform trotted out by just about every administration in recent memory and beyond, and by and large it typically means increased spending on new education programs rather than correcting or eliminating non-working elements of our public education system. Obama’s reform plan is no different. He has managed to raise eyebrows by challenging the NEA on merit pay for educators, to which they are vehemently opposed. On this I applaud him. However, incentives are only half the solution. There must also be disincentives to ensure that education reform is truly effective.

Unless the president is willing to really go the distance with the NEA (rather than put up a brief fight and roll over when they bite back, as I suspect he will), he must draw a line in the sand and challenge underperforming teachers and the tenure system. As anyone who has been to the Northern Virginia DMV can tell you, employees tend to become underproductive and in many cases counterproductive when a bureaucracy shields them from termination (just one of many reasons I fear Universal Healthcare). Merit pay will only incentivize those who are already determined to succeed and contribute to achieve in a system in which there is no penalty for complacency. Those who care only for the steady paycheck that their tenure ensures (precisely the individuals at the root of the problem) might reach for some low-hanging fruit every now and again, but by and large they will be content to steer their steady and unremarkable course. In the private sector, these individuals would typically get a pink slip for their lack of drive and, most importantly, their lack of results. Until we are willing to do the same with our educators, education reform will only amount to throwing more money at the problem.

No comments: