July 7, 2008

300 booing is somehow more important than 10,000 delegates

Former Hill staffer Charles Barone wrote early this morning that a video of Barack Obama's speech to the NEA Representative Assembly last week was being watched closely by "Congressional staff and education policy folks." Barone highlights a point in the speech where Obama says he is in favor of performance pay and where you can hear some booing in the background. "Pretty striking, booing a plan to give teachers who do more work, attain certain skills, or take tough assignments more money."

Barone is taking that moment far out of context, and so is anyone who draws a similar conclusion: what sounds like several hundred people booing is in a hall of about 10,000 delegates, and the cheers at other moments easily outweighed the booing. Even the laughter at Barack's comment after that moment was far louder. Bargaining performance pay is a hot topic among teacher union officers, and it should be clear that many union leaders are highly skeptical of any and all performance pay plans. I don't want to paper that over. There are plenty of reasons for union officials to be skeptical, given the history of arbitrary administrative evaluations before unionization, pay plans that have been imposed without bargaining, or pressure tactics that can undermine local bargaining. On the other hand, I can think of several locals (including those in the NEA) who have bargained performance pay when they have been part of its development.

In the end, Barone's comment is sad evidence of a Beltway mentality: Hill staffers know best. Neither members of Congress nor local school board members nor union leaders inherently know best. Where that type of arrogance rears its head, it undermines what should be happening: discussion.

(Disclosure: My own faculty union was the first to propose merit pay many years ago in the statewide contract, and of all the locally-derived money at USF for collectively bargained raises since our first local contract in 2004, two thirds has been for merit pay.)

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on July 7, 2008 8:37 AM |