Ridiculous: Mich. School Districts Defy Reform Law with $1 Teacher Bonuses

Far too often the world of K-12 education seems like a venture into the ridiculous. Forget the sublime. Some of us would be happy with a handful of common sense. But there’s also a good practical lesson for school reformers in a new from Michigan Capitol Confidential story highlighting a couple school districts’ sarcastic approach to implementing a 2010 teacher compensation law:

Some Michigan school districts think their best teachers are worth $1 more than their worst.

That’s the amount the Davison Community Schools in Genessee County, and the Stephenson Area Public Schools in Menominee County, pay to be in compliance with the state’s merit pay law, which was put in place when Jennifer Granholm was governor. The Gladstone Area Public Schools in Delta County pays its top-notch teachers $3 more than the worst.

As Joanne Jacobs also highlights, a peek at these districts merely scratches the surface, as an estimated 80 percent of Michigan school districts essentially have resisted implementing the pay reform. Four out of five have ignored the law!

I can almost see it now: You want your merit pay? Here’s your merit pay… Ha! Rather than trying to tackle the need for change in their wildly inefficient salary structures, some school administrators decided to thumb their noses at the whole idea. With Won’t Back Down as the big new education reform drama, someone might produce this story as its education reform comedy counterpart. A true farce.

Mike Antonucci cleverly compares the response of these rogue Michigan school districts to “guerrilla war.” He notes that the case “demonstrates the limits of passing a law enacting education reform and then handing it over to opponents to put it into practice.” Passing laws isn’t enough to enact change. At least passing laws that leave power in the hands of government bureaucrats.

In any case, the Mackinac Institute’s Michael Van Beek is correct: There’s no way anyone can consider $1 to $3 bonuses as a “significant factor” in teacher compensation, and thus no way to interpret the districts’ actions as anything but failure to comply with the law. The remaining question is whether anyone in authority is serious enough to enforce it.

There must be a better way.