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California Teachers Unions Oppose Paying Teachers More Because It Would Introduce Too Much Competition Into Public Schools: New at Reason

One union official told The Sacramento Bee that “education should not be a competitive endeavor.” Because competition never improved anything, right?

Ingram Publishing/NewscomIngram Publishing/NewscomIf you're looking for a stellar example of teachers' unions ongoing commitment to mediocrity or worse, then you need only look at their reaction to now-defeated California GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox's idea last month of paying top-notch teachers much higher salaries—perhaps even rivalling those earned by ballplayers and rock stars.

The unions, of course, pan the idea. One union official told The Sacramento Bee that "education should not be a competitive endeavor."

Cox seemed to suggest in a statement to the newspaper that he engaged in some hyperbole: "Of course our teachers will never approach the pay of a Beyonce or a Lebron, but quite frankly, our classroom teachers influence, inspire and change the arc of more lives than even these music and athletic superstars."

His idea of instituting a form of merit pay makes a lot of sense. Despite the naysaying, every successful enterprise is, to some degree, competitive.

Merit pay is a simple concept. It allows school administrators to pay good, effective teachers more than mediocre or poor-performing teachers. It allows signing bonuses and performance-based rewards. The obvious corollary is that it also allows them to pay bad or incompetent teachers lower salaries. In a truly competitive educational model that goes beyond this simple idea, school officials could even—get this—demote, discipline, or fire teachers who aren't making the grade. That's how it works in almost any private business, and even private schools.

In the current public-school system, however, pay is based on seniority. A school teacher who has been just occupying a chair for decades, must be paid better than a young go-getter. A teacher who is willing to ply his or her skills in a tough, low-performing urban school must be paid the same as a teacher on autopilot in a wealthy suburban district, where the challenges are less severe and the stakes not as high. It means that good teachers cannot be rewarded. Great teachers cannot easily be recruited. Grossly ineffective teachers cannot easily be removed. And mediocre ones have few incentives to improve. Imagine how this system would work in your particular profession or business, writes Steven Greenhut.

Photo Credit: Ingram Publishing/Newscom

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