U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today praised Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ for echoing his support for experimental programs to pay good teachers more for teaching well. Alexander has been leading the fight in the Senate to restore funding to the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), which was virtually zeroed out in spending legislation passed by Congress last month.
“One of the big differences between today and 20 years ago is that we now have a number of ways to measure student achievement,” Alexander said at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee at which Gates testified. Although such measures are less than perfect, Alexander added, this should not prevent efforts to develop fair ways of rewarding good teachers. As Governor of Tennessee in the 1980’s, Alexander joined with the Democratic-controlled state legislature in initiating a career ladder program for public school teachers that allowed those who performed well to become “master teachers” and earn higher pay.
Gates, who called himself a “big believer” in the TIF, testified that experimental merit pay programs are useful laboratories and that moving incrementally “allows people to go along with it even if in the early days … they’re worried that the system is unproven.”
Alexander praised one such project, a partnership between the Memphis school district and New Leaders for New Schools, and urged cooperation between the public and private sectors in developing fair criteria for teacher merit pay. Memphis was one of 16 school districts to receive funding from the TIF last year, and was awarded $3.1 million. Gates added that more communities should follow Memphis lead in that “there should be a hundred such experiments” across the country.
The TIF has bipartisan support, but its $100 million budget was reduced to $200,000 in the funding resolution passed last month to keep the federal government operating for the remainder of fiscal year 2007. Alexander offered an amendment to restore the funding, but the Democratic majority would not permit a vote on his or any other amendments to the resolution. He has pledged to continue efforts to restore TIF funding.