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Eagle County CO Merit Pay Revisited

February 4, 2013

One of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts today updates the happenings in Eagle County CO, the district Bill Gates touted in his annual report that I blogged about a few days ago. In the column, I contended that Gates is NOT an enemy of teachers (though he doesn’t like school boards and democracy) but he IS very naive about the way public education works and his belief that improvements can happen quickly and cheaply. Today’s post is evidence of that naiveté. It seems that last May in an effort to make education more efficient (i.e. inexpensive), the Eagle County Board replaced three foreign language teachers with a computer program.  The newspaper article reporting on the “budget crunch” made no mention of the bonus raises for teachers, which led me to assume they are still in place, especially given Gates’ recent national touting of their efficacy. Here was my comment on this completely predictable debacle:

As one who has written about the futility “merit pay”, I am not surprised at the consequences of implementing the compensation system Gates proposed. School budgets are always a zero sum game effectively limited by the amount of additional taxes the voters are willing to pay. That means you cannot add an expenditure without finding a corresponding area to reduce. Businessmen cannot get their heads around this notion when they advocate “performance pay” because in the private sector the bottom line is linked to the performance of the business as a whole. In schools, there is NO link between the revenues and performance and so it is possible for a school system to improve (as Eagle County evidently did based on (ulp) test scores) and face budget compromises. In Eagle Valley’s case, they could maintain their “performance bonuses” based on (ulp) test scores, find someplace else to cut, or, heaven forfend, try to see if the local taxpayers are willing to dig a little deeper in their pockets.

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