Wholesale, they say

Here’s hoping they understand the word

Posted: October 12, 2018 at 3:17 a.m.

Earlier this week, the hills were alive with the sound of pay raises for teachers. Why, of course. It's an election season. What pol worth his tie clip wouldn't be for pay raises for teachers? Along with motherhood and apple pie. It's what the pollsters call a winning issue.

A joint panel of lawmakers endorsed the governor's idea to raise the minimum salary for teachers by a thousand bucks, and give other teachers a 2 percent pay raise.

But there was another sentence in Hunter Field's 1A story. For those who may have missed it: "The House and Senate Education committees, meeting jointly, also agreed to a wholesale review of the state's education funding formula."

Now that, Gentle Reader, could get very interesting.

This state spends billions each year on public education. Has it reached $4 billion yet? Things have been over-ripe for a wholesale review of the state's education spending formula for years.

A wholesale review would include not only minimum salaries for teachers, but a review of how all teachers are paid.

May we opine:

There is already a system in place to reward the best schools, the best principals, the best teachers when they do the best jobs. Don't noise it about, but it's called merit pay. And the state has finally--finally--set up the system to reward those schools on two criteria: 1. which schools turn out the best test scores, and 2. which schools have the greatest improvements from the previous year.

As far as merit pay goes, this system is the best of both worlds. Schools that have consistently had the best student achievements--that is, student test scores in the top 5 or 10 percent of the state--are rewarded. And so are schools that make up the most ground. For years, this system was just a vision. Thanks to the governor and the Ledge, the state is now putting real money toward the effort. This year, the state handed out nearly $7 million in bonuses.

Earlier this year, 15 schools in Pulaski County alone were recognized. Checks were cut, ranging from $11,000 to more than $85,000. The money could have been used for just about anything the schools could get approved through the state--bonuses for teachers, new equipment, etc.

Pay for performance works in business, government, the arts, newspapering, advertising, the military, sports, entertainment, lawn care, the travel industry, the medical profession, motorcycle maintenance, lumberjacking . . . . Well, pay for performance works just about every time it's used. It's called human nature. People not only want to be paid more for better results, but humans like to be recognized by their peers when their work is better than average. Whaddaya gonna do about human nature? Egalitarianism may sound good in theory--at least to some of us--but it doesn't seem to work well in practice. People are individuals--and like to be treated as individuals.

If lawmakers really do take a deep look at education funding in Arkansas--call it a wholesale review--then why not put more than $7 million toward these school bonuses? After all, it works.

Why not double it? Or increase the $7 million by tenfold?

The teachers' unions will squeal, and not in a good way. As much as regular teachers doing good work might like the idea of merit pay--and even consider it a challenge met--the leaders of teachers' unions know that even bad teachers pay dues. So expect more debate about giving more across-the-board raises to all teachers, and limiting bonuses for the best.

A better idea would be to reward the best among us, as in any other occupation. And recognize the best, too. All the better to take their good ideas and duplicate them across the state.

The political leaders in this state say they want a wholesale review. The rest of us should not only take them at their word, but hold them to it.

Editorial on 10/12/2018