The White House last week unveiled a plan to create a "master teacher corps" that could give selected math and science teachers an additional $20,000 in annual wages. Corps members would provide mentoring, curriculum planning, and school-turnaround assistance for at least four years, administration officials said.
The idea embodies some of the Obama administration's most cherished concepts--pay for performance, competitions among local jurisdictions, and asking Congress for money. The administration is devoting $100 million to the project now, with 35 school districts already lined up to help select 50 winning teachers. President Obama is requesting $1 billion next year to increase this initial micro-corps to 10,000 teachers.
The request probably won't work because Republican-led Congress is unlikely to sign off on such a project. Republicans are more interested in creating flexible block grant programs that consolidate the current federal teacher programs and allow states and school districts to use the money for their own teacher improvement programs. A spokeswoman for House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., pointed to two bills that have passed the committee already with that goal.
Without the needed funding, the administration's vision of a competition among math and science teachers and merit pay for the best of the best is likely to fall flat relatively quickly. But the spirit of the idea is still there. It involves teachers in curriculum improvement and tutoring and it encourages school districts to be innovative. The plan also highlights one of the administration's top education priorities--growing the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
Is there value in a searching for and rewarding master teachers? Is $20,000 enough to compensate them for the extra work of leading turnaround efforts? What are the pitfalls of such a program? Will there be morale problems among other teachers? What about bureaucratic headaches? Does this plan elevate the status of teachers?