Education Week carries an interesting story about states looking to convert to teacher pay systems that are based on merit and pay for performance. Good news. However, the story contains comments that lead me to believe the teacher-union spinmeisters have begun their work on this issue. It seems that pay-for-performance is being viewed as a way to simply increase teacher salaries. For those who excel, I think that’s fair. But that’s only half the story of pay-for-performance systems. They also should not reward those who don’t perform at high levels. The following excerpt from the story, about Minnesota, is particularly illustrative. Note the quote from the president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

Mr. Pawlenty, Minnesota?s first-term governor, would supplement the budgets of school districts that overhaul traditional pay systems and create different levels of teachers, allowing the best teachers to become master teachers advising a whole school and others to become mentors.

The plan would provide $155 per student in extra state aid to participating districts. The districts also would be allowed to exceed revenue caps to raise $70 per student in local funds, said Bill Walsh, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Education.

The $60 million Mr. Pawlenty has proposed over two years would be enough to reach districts serving half the state?s 850,000 K-12 students, Mr. Walsh said.

Mr. Walsh acknowledged that the proposal has drawn the scorn of the statewide teachers? union. But he pointed out that a federally financed project with similar goals has been supported by teachers and union officials in three Minneapolis schools and in Minnesota?s 2,200-student Waseca school district. ?When we talk to local unions about what it means for their teachers,? he said, ?we get more excitement.?

But the president of the Minneapolis teachers? union said that the teachers in the three Minneapolis schools have supported the federally funded project because its benefits are in addition to?not instead of?the traditional pay schedule. She said her union wouldn?t support a statewide project that didn?t have similar guarantees.

?I don?t foresee that we?d be taking any giant leaps without knowing that we?d have a pretty secure, soft landing,? said Louise A. Sundin, the president of the 5,500-member Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.