A new teacher pay proposal from Gov. Sonny Perdue would rightly reward Georgia educators based on the quality of the product (well-educated children) that they turn out, rather than their number of years on the clock.
Mr. Perdue announced Tuesday he intends to ask lawmakers to institute a new, opt-in pay raise scheme for Peach State educators - one that values excellence in student achievement more than a teacher's years of service or number of advanced degrees.
Currently, teachers are rewarded with higher pay based on their tenure and level of training, without regard to how well the students in their charge are comprehending the classroom material. The governor rightly posits that raises on the basis of time and training (which might be expected to improve student outcomes) might have made sense before the existence of today's tools for directly tracking student performance.
Basing pay solely on time in the classroom has two negative effects.
First, it gives cover to mediocre teachers who continue to earn more each year, even if their teaching methods and outcomes stagnate. Second, it penalizes bright young educators who might not have an advanced degree or decades behind the desk, but who are adept at expanding students' minds.
The governor's proposal also takes into consideration the other side of the learning equation: Parental involvement and the students' willingness to work. It does so by basing salary bonuses not only on student growth, but also on classroom observation.
Teachers who hold up their end of bargain by employing effective teaching methods should be rewarded in part for that effort.
Gov. Perdue's plan would allow teachers to opt into the merit pay structure. That's a smart way to smooth over the politics: Influential teachers groups are less likely to object. Also, the governor's plan would not go into full effect until 2014.
But the arguments in favor of merit pay are the same arguments for making the merit pay system mandatory over time. That's why we favor a provision of the governor's plan requiring newly hired teachers to automatically move into the merit pay column.
The governor should further explain the criteria by which teachers would be judged, and who would do the classroom observations. Lawmakers who introduce the measure should also consider adding a bonus for teachers who go to work in struggling schools. They shouldn't be penalized.
Teachers are not factory workers. But, so far, that's largely how we've paid them: By the quantity of students taught and how long they stick around.
They should instead be rewarded according to craftsmanship and their ability to mold young minds.