Obama’s Elite STEM Teacher Corps: A Step in the Right Direction

Today President Obama unveiled a proposal to create a national corps of elite teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The fifty top teachers in each of those subjects would receive a $20,000 stipend on top of their salaries in exchange for a multiyear commitment to the corps. Over the next four years the program would expand to 10,000 teachers, with the goal that they would share resources and best practices to teachers across the country.

I’m glad to see this, and hope that this model is spread to other content areas. The structure of teacher compensation in this country is based on the assumption that teachers are equal, interchangeable widgets; seniority, not effectiveness, determines salary. Yet all parents, teachers, and students know that some teachers are better than others. Instead of lying to ourselves at the behest of regimented union contracts, we should acknowledge these differences by highlighting and rewarding our best teachers. Besides incentivizing great teaching with higher salaries, this would encourage the countless great teachers in this country to share resources and best practices. Increasing the influence of outstanding teachers can only help our nation’s students.

I understand why Obama chose to start with STEM teachers for this program–improving our performance in those subjects is perhaps more urgent in the fast-moving global economy. But the principle and simple logic of the program applies to all subjects in all grades. In a time of limited resources, it is especially important to best utilize the resources we have. This proposal takes a big step in that direction.

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