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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 04/13/2011

Performance pay at schools Obama, Duncan picked for their children?

Bill Schechter is a 35-year vet­eran history teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury, Mass., who is retired from the classroom and now supervises the student-teacher practicums of students earning masters degrees in teaching at a local university. He also serves as a volunteer tutor at a Boston public school.

Schechter was recently preparing testimony to give before the Massachusetts Board of Education, which will soon hold hearings on whether to base teacher evaluation on student test scores — and if so, to what extent -- when this question occurred to him: How do the schools serving the children of Barack Obama and Arne Duncan handle this important education reform issue?

He decided to investigate and here is his report.

By Bill Schechter

Anyone who is a parent knows how determined, even desperate, we can be to do the best by our children, particularly in the areas of health care or education. We want them to have every opportunity to grow into healthy, happy, and thoughtful people. We hope and pray for their success.

Indeed, the Boston Globe recently ran a series spotlighting the enormous anxiety experienced by Boston parents as they awaited news of their young children’s school placements.

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are also parents who naturally want the best for their kids. Obama enrolled his two children at Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school in Washington, D.C., and Duncan enrolled his two children in the Arlington, Va., public schools, respectively.

Do these excellent schools evaluate or pay teachers on the basis of student standardized test scores?

This question is important because the issue of “pay for performance” models of teacher evaluation now dominates the intense debate over education reform. Duncan has voiced his support for performance-based merit pay.

In Massachusetts, the State Board of Education is holding a public hearing on whether teacher evaluation should be tied to student test scores, and, if so, to what extent.

I wanted to find out how Sidwell Friends and the Arlington Public Schools approached the pay-for-performance issue. What did the president and the secretary seek and obtain for their own kids, where the important issue of teacher evaluation was concerned.

The answers recently arrived in two emails:

• Arlington school district teacher, March 31, 2011::

“We do not tie teacher evaluations to scores in the Arlington public school system.”

• Sidwell Friends faculty member, April 1, 2011:

“We don’t tie teacher pay to test scores because we don’t believe them to be a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.”

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