Teachers' union resists tying pay to test scores


POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

President Barack Obama's agenda for education — from merit pay for teachers to more classroom time for kids — drew applause from local educators.

But that could change as details emerge in the coming weeks.

In a speech yesterday to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Obama outlined how he hopes to revive American education:

Reward excellence in teaching with extra pay, and boot out bad teachers. Lengthen the school day or year. Invest in early childhood education that works. Raise academic standards. Improve testing quality and measurement. Reduce dropout rates.

“;These are sound practices that we know will give us the results we want,”; said schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto. “;We've always talked about merit pay, not only for teachers but for all employees, to raise performance as well as to ensure that we're accountable.”;

Obama did not specify what approach he had in mind for merit pay. The Hawaii State Teachers Association opposes tying the pay of individual teachers to student test scores. But it is open to a more collaborative version that rewards teachers for schoolwide performance, an idea recently adopted in New York City.

“;We've talked about schoolwide bonuses,”; said Roger Takabayashi, HSTA president. “;You don't want teachers necessarily competing against each other. The goal is for the whole school to achieve. Children go to many different teachers during the day.”;

“;The question is, how are you going to measure performance?”; he said. “;We need to have a discussion about it. It's kind of exciting.”;

In his first major speech on education as president, Obama said the future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens.

“;Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us,”; he said.

He called for a longer school day or year, noting that children in South Korea spend nearly a month longer in the classroom than American children. He also recommended fostering innovation by lifting caps on the number of charter schools, but shutting down charter schools that fail.

Ruth Tschumy, vice chairwoman of the Charter School Review Panel, welcomed that stance. She also noted that some charter schools in Hawaii are already experimenting with expanding learning time by more than 30 percent. Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently, free of many state rules and regulations.

Takabayashi said he was open to the idea of more classroom time, as long as teachers were compensated for it. He also said he agreed with the president's hard-line on teacher performance.

“;If they're not doing their job, then they should be removed,”; he said. “;We just have to make sure they are provided due process.”;

The new administration plans to boost money for education overall in return for more accountability. It also wants to pilot a program in up to 150 school districts, where new teachers will be mentored and “;good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement and be asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their students.”;