Bloomberg calls for performance-based pay for teachers in Urban League speech

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 4:46 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

ST. LOUIS — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a potential independent presidential candidate, said today that performance-based merit pay for teachers should be implemented in the nation’s public schools.

Bloomberg made the comments in prepared remarks for a speech at a conference of urban leaders in St. Louis where some of the declared presidential candidates were scheduled to appear later this week.

Bloomberg’s trip to the key swing state has raised eyebrows because he is said to be flirting with possibly running for president, while denying any interest in doing so.

He has increased his out-of-state travel, built a detailed personal Web site and also recently left the Republican party to become an independent, perhaps clearing the way for a third-party bid.

In the remarks, Bloomberg praised Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama — who could be an opponent if the mayor gets into the race — for supporting the concept of merit pay. Obama recently told the country’s largest teachers union that the idea should be considered.

“I was happy to hear that Senator Obama recently became the first Democratic presidential candidate to offer at least modest support for the idea of bonus pay for teachers,” Bloomberg said.

Linking merit pay to student test scores is an idea that is spreading in popularity in local school districts, as well as among lawmakers who are rewriting the No Child Left Behind law, which is up for review this year.

Supporters, like Bloomberg, say bonuses for teachers who improve student achievement would reward effective work and attract strong people to the job. But some opponents, including many teachers unions, worry about the idea of gauging teachers based on a narrow factor like standardized tests.

U.S. teachers are typically paid on a system that rewards seniority, with an average starting salary of around $31,000.

Bloomberg said some critics believe that offering financial incentives to teachers somehow diminishes their altruistic motives — an idea he denounced as “ridiculous.”

“We should be offering teachers and principals incentives not only to take the toughest assignments, and to fill special needs, but also to get the best possible results from their students,” he said.

A new poll released today found Bloomberg’s approval rating remains high among New York City voters — at 73 percent — but a majority wouldn’t vote for him if he ran for president.

The poll by Quinnipiac University shows that even though voters like him as mayor, just 34 percent said they’d definitely or probably vote for him for president, with 57 percent saying they definitely or probably wouldn’t.

The survey polled 1,194 New York City registered voters from July 18 to July 23, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

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