Merit pay the MLB way

As redefineED editor Adam Emerson observed last week, Andy Rotherham and I both like using professional sports comparisons when discussing how to improve teacher employment and compensation practices. But whereas Andy thinks school districts should “act more like professional sports franchises so they can protect and incentivize the talent they most want to hold onto,” I see individual schools as being analogous to professional teams and school districts functioning as the league office.

Major League Baseball does not hire and fire players, nor decide their pay. These decisions are made by individual teams. This decentralized decision making benefits teams and players. Teams are able to hire the players that best meet their needs, and players have 30 different employment opportunities rather than just one. Multiple employers enable baseball players to earn more money by selling their services to the highest bidder, a process called free agency, and to customize their contracts within the parameters of league rules. Some players prefer the security of longer-term contracts, even if it means less money, while others accept less job security in exchange for more money. The players’ union would fiercely resist any attempts by MLB to centralize hiring, firing and compensation decisions, as would the teams.

If public educators were interested in replicating the success of Major League Baseball, we’d move hiring, firing and compensation decisions to the school level. School districts would stop owning and managing schools and instead focus on providing an effective regulatory environment within which the publicly-funded schools under their jurisdiction would operate. In essence, every district school would operate like a charter school. Teacher unions would represent teachers’ interest by ensuring state and district regulations were good for teachers and helping them negotiate contracts with their preferred schools.

The few professional sports leagues that have tried centralized team ownership and player employment have all failed. Public educators understand why.

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BY Doug Tuthill

A lifelong educator and former teacher union president, Tuthill has been president of Step Up For Students since August 2008.