Worth is in the eye of the beholder

By December 30, 2010 Blog, Current Affairs No Comments

The simplicity of the idea behind the SAME (So All May Eat) Café in Denver, Colorado, is stunning—patrons pay whatever they want for a made-from-scratch, often organic meal. No one expected the restaurant to last six months, but it is now in its 5th year of operation and serving thousands every year.

The café owners, longtime volunteers in soup kitchens and driven by a passion to solve a problem that big government and big money hadn’t, unabashedly took huge risks with their life’s saving to do something they thought they should: feed hungry people in a dignified and respectful environment and get paid what it is worth. Although running a non-profit restaurant is not exactly like funding education, there is a similarity worth noting.

The “worth” of a good teacher is a much discussed topic in education. In Uri Friedman’s December 21 blog, he asks “Is a good teacher worth $400,000?” and sites the recent findings of researcher Eric Hanushek of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, whose new book Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools cuts to the chase about the lack of significant improvements in student achievement, simply stating that the incentives today do not focus on improved student outcomes. Hanushek suggests a performance-based system directly linking funding to success in raising student achievement will work better. Ahhh, the beauty of that conclusion reminds me of Keats, but with a twist: Simplicity is truth, truth simplicity.

Is a good teacher worth $400,000? If students are learning what they need to be learning, then yes, paying the going market rate for high performance is logical. Too simple, you say? A couple of café owners might disagree.

See what $125,000 a year is getting students in New York City here.

Read an interview with University of Missouri-Columbia Professor of Economics Michael Podgursky about merit pay and teachers here.

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