Whither Q-Comp?

Tomorrow, a family friend who recently began his tenure as principal of a charter school is attending the Minnesota Department of Education First Annual Q-Comp Conference. I'll be interested in his impressions of the day.

Education reformers had high hopes for Governor Tim Pawlenty's Q-Comp proposal. Short for "Quality Compensation," the reform was designed to move teachers away from the current "steps-and-lanes" system that rewards teachers simply for longevity and additional education. The reform would have tied teacher compensation more closely to student performance.

Craig Westover has done a number of detailed analyses of what Q-Comp was supposed to be, and what finally passed the Legislature. He even did an extensive fisking of Education Commissioner Alice Seagren's defense of the final bill (in a line-by-line analysis of the final legislation). Westover maintains that not much changed, and the student performance measures were significantly weakened or eliminated.

Folks, we did not get a restructured compensation system. We did not get a merit pay system based on student achievement. We did not get education reform. We got a career advancement subsidy that puts process (improving skills) ahead of results (student learning). The only criterion of student performance — standardized state tests — is optional.

Our favorite econ prof, King Banaian, provided his insights on this topic right after the special session adjourned:

The problem is, once again, the misunderstanding that labor competes with labor and firms or school districts compete with other firms or school districts. It is this part, and this alone, that convinces me Craig is right. A union is a cartel; it acts to restrain competition among laborers within a firm (and often those outside). A merit pay system by its very nature encourages competition among teachers.

A teachers' union which wanted to show its professionalism and its concern for students would allow competition among teachers. But for a union, that's an argument against interest. The answer, of course, is real school choice.

Sunday's Star Tribune OpEx section devoted a large amount of black ink to the subject. You would do well to fish it out of the recycling or click these links for a second look:

Our friend Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) put it this way, "in the end, the champions of the status quo won."

Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins) is taking a moderate-sounding stance, saying, "The collaborative design of Minnesota's new alternative teacher pay guidelines has the potential to significantly improve the way educators are paid."

Education Minnesota President Judy Schaubach says that schools will need more money and more time (a frequent teacher union response to reform), and "a new pay system should be based on student needs — not ideology." Fair enough, but calling needed reform "ideology" is a favorite tactic of the keepers of the status quo.

Refreshingly, the Star Tribune editorial on Q-Comp provided a downright favorable review of teacher pay reform in general, and what passed as Q-Comp specifically:

The steps-and-lanes pay structure has long needed a makeover. Earning more solely because of seniority and additional degrees had its place when the system was developed, but contemporary teaching and learning needs call for a different design...

The Q-Comp experiment will produce a wide range of compensation plans — quite possibly including as many misses as hits. As the models are tried, Minnesota should take the best of them to build a system that improves student learning and does a better job of recruiting, retaining and rewarding teachers.

Over time, Q-Comp will mean whatever individual proposals and school districts (and perhaps future legislation) say it means. Q-Comp 2005 wasn't everything we hoped it would be, but at least teacher pay reform in Minnesota is now off to a start.