Performance pay in Oregon: Reject the messenger, not the message

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Oregon voters are likely to turn down a performance pay measure for teachers when they hit the polls on November 4. Although Measure 60 is not without merit--it would award pay increases to teachers based solely on their performance in the classroom and allow districts to retain good teachers when they have to reduce staff--it is still expected to fail in part because of its controversial and polarizing sponsor, Bill Sizemore.

Sizemore has a long history of pushing ballot measures (with another five on this year's ballot alone, as well as a failed 2002 ballot measure also on performance pay) and a deep disdain for the state's teachers' unions, calling them "a cancer on public education." The unions brought a lawsuit against Sizemore in 2000, in which he was found guilty of racketeering, fraud and forgery during that year's ballot initiative, a decision later upheld by the state's Supreme Court. The latest round of documents that have emerged from his eight-year legal battle with the unions suggest that he is also a tax evader and has used proceeds from his non-profit organization for personal expenses. In short, not a guy to be trusted.

Apparently with money to burn, the Oregon Education Association has reportedly spent $5.2 million to defeat Sizemore's five ballot measures this year, averaging out to about $100 for each of its 48,000 members, and its parent, the National Education Association, has kicked in another $1 million. Not to be outsmarted, Sizemore is also behind another ballot question, Measure 64, which would bar all public employees' unions in the future from using payroll deductions to collect dues money the unions in turn spend on political advocacy--including fighting ballot measures.

Despite the likely failure of Sizemore's performance pay measure at the ballot box, there are still signs of interest in paying teachers for other than experience and college credits. The Chalkboard Project, an independent non-profit organization created by a group of Oregon foundations, is working with the state department of education to test performance pay in three districts. As part of this effort, they are taking steps to clearly define the elements of good teaching and to establish standards against which teachers' performance is measured.