A storm over classroom performance pay

Teacher urges big raises for some, cuts for others

March 11, 2003|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

GLENDALE, Calif. - Brian Crosby, dressed as always in coat and tie, begins English class at Glendale's Herbert Hoover High School in suburban Los Angeles right on time, with all the flair of a businessman.

"Ruminate," the 44-year-old teacher announces dryly to a class full of sophomores, beginning a talk on the vocabulary word of the day.

"It means to ponder," he says. "To think over."

For much of his 14-year career in Glendale, Crosby has ruminated over all aspects of his job, meticulously collecting those thoughts on yellow pads. Last year, he went a step further and transformed his ponderings into a manuscript that has been published by a small Virginia publisher.

The book's most provocative claim is in its title, The $100,000 Teacher.

Crosby argues in the book that the best teachers deserve six-figure salaries. That claim alone has earned him praise from colleagues, garnered respectable reviews (Publishers Weekly said the book offered "important ideas and a strong argument for awarding teachers the status they deserve") and led to appearances on national radio and on television.

Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust in Washington, calls Crosby's arguments "fascinating."

In particular, Crosby has been embraced by advocates of performance pay for teachers, paying instructors on the basis of how well they do in the classroom.

A few states are experimenting with such pay structures, but the movement has had little public support from rank-and-file teachers, who, like their unions, oppose most such ideas.

Crosby says many teachers should have their pay cut, and he sees unions as protecting the mediocre. The National Education Association, he says, should re-create itself as a professional organization like the American Medical Association.

Six-figure salaries should be available for teachers who are demonstrably at the top of the profession, the best 5 percent or so, he says. And bonuses could be paid for hard-to-find math and science teachers, and to encourage better teachers to go to poorer schools.

"There are simply not enough smart people in the field of education," Crosby writes. "Teachers need to trade job security for professional integrity. There needs to be a real threat to teachers that they may lose their jobs if they don't meet minimum standards."

To pay for such salary increases, Crosby suggests two hotly disputed ideas: diverting money from the federal Title I program or using funds earmarked for computers or Internet wiring of classrooms.

"For a teacher to publish a book like that, it's pretty unusual," says Allan Odden, director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin, which is studying performance pay.

Some teachers in better-paying districts can make $100,000 a year by taking on extra responsibilities such as teaching summer school, mentoring other teachers or coaching sports teams.

But Crosby says he is frustrated that most teachers top out on union-negotiated salary scales after a decade or so and can't earn raises, no matter how well they do in the classroom.

Joe Mathews writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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