Yesterday in a post in this space I said that if Maryland gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley's plan to pay big signing bonuses to school principals to take assignments in the most troubled schools was tied to past achievement than it warranted serious consideration as a worthwhile proposal. I added: "It will be interesting to see whether O'Malley pushes this or other new ideas in the face of union opposition."
Now, according to a story in today's Washington Post, Governor Robert Ehrlich is putting forward a plan to tie teachers' compensation, at least to some extent, to merit. He's including a request for modest funding in the state's fiscal 2008 budget proposal for planning what he calls a "Quality Compensation Initiative." According to the Post report on Ehrlich's merit pay proposal, O'Malley said "he believes that the state should focus on ensuring that teacher salaries and benefits, including pensions, are competitive."
It's not entirely clear, but that sounds like it may be a cop-out. Sure, the teachers' pay should be "competitive" in order to attract good people to the profession. But, in my view, some form of merit pay system, which ties compensation to performance, should be initiated for both teachers and principals, even if on a limited and experimental basis in order to get a program in place quickly. As I said yesterday, the teachers' and principals' unions, and maybe even the city administrators' unions, will oppose the notion of merit pay. All the more reason to have a good debate about the issue to see where our political leaders--and wanna-be leaders--stand on an important issue of education policy.