Merit pay for teachers to resurface on Oregon ballot


Teachers across Oregon are gearing up for a big fight over a potential 2008 ballot measure that would tie their salaries to their "classroom performance."

Oregonians voted down a related proposal to link educator salaries directly to student test results in 2000. But since then, so-called merit pay programs have caught on across the country, in a big way.

Schools and districts in 19 states have incentive pay plans, including Minnesota, New York City, Denver, Texas and Florida.

Such plans have varied widely from state to state, but many areas have chosen to tie the bonuses to teachers who agree to teach at high poverty, low performing schools, and manage to have some impact on student achievement. Often, higher bonuses are given to teachers who accept hard-to-fill jobs in math, science or language departments.

But the Oregon proposal, backed by anti-tax initiative machine and teacher's union foe Bill Sizemore, is much broader in scope. It would make all teacher raises dependent upon the loosely defined criterion of "classroom performance," instead of on experience or seniority levels.

Years spent in the classroom, in other words, would no longer matter.

That's fighting words for teacher unions, who have made it clear that they expect to wage a full-fledged fight against the measure.

"(Sizemore's) history proves he is no friend to public education," said Becca Uherbelau, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Education Association. "This is just another way for him to line his pockets and continue to be politically relevant. Research shows (merit pay) does nothing to increase student achievement or teacher quality."

Sizemore, who said he expects the unions to spend between $3 and $5 million to fight the measure, said he purposely left the wording of the measure open-ended, to deflect criticism about forcing educator to "teach to the test."

Sizemore said the criteria could include classroom testing, but could also encompass peer review, supervisor evaluations or demonstrated student improvement over a year's worth of work.

"The goal is simply to move teacher pay and job security to some kind of performance related basis rather than seniority," Sizemore said. "All I want is to ensure is that they keep the best teachers, not necessarily the teachers who have been there the longest."

In June, Sizemore turned in more than 130,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot. He need only 82,769 validated signatures to make the ballot.

Still, Sizemore said he plans to turn in several thousand more signatures in the next few weeks, just to give himself a cushion.

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