Sell Your Soul to the Testocracy: Kamala Harris’s Faustian Teacher Raises

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 7.03.07 PM

I love the idea of Kamala Harris’ plan to give teachers a pay raise.

But once we get past ideas, it’s way more troubling.


The California Senator and Democratic Presidential hopeful is proposing a $13,500 pay increase for the average teacher, with the exact number based on the size of each state’s pay gap.

That’s $315 billion more over a decade through federal matching funds, which amounts to a 23 percent salary increase for most educators.


Yes, please!

I could certainly use a raise.

But as Joe Moore said, “You can’t trust a promise someone makes while they’re drunk, in love, hungry, or running for office.”

And Harris IS running for office.


With this policy she’s wooing the national teachers unions and filling the neoliberal seat left by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I love my union, but its leadership is like a college kid during spring break – ready to jump into bed with anyone who says the right words.

The fact of the matter is this plan also is favored by the people out to destroy my profession from the inside out.

Arne Duncan likes it.

Yes, THAT Arne Duncan!

Obama’s first Education Secretary. The guy who thought Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to New Orleans because it allowed the government to close the public schools and replace them with charter schools.

The man who held federal grant money hostage unless schools enacted his unproven and disastrous corporate driven education reforms.

The man who encouraged pushing out teachers of color who had four year education degrees in favor of mostly white Teach for America temps with a few weeks crash course training.

The man who encouraged a rapid increase in high stakes standardized testing, narrowed curriculum, let class sizes balloon and decreased authentic lessons.

THAT Arne Duncan wrote this about Harris’ plan on Twitter:


“Radical idea: pay the professionals we entrust to teach, nurture and mentor our children a better salary!”




Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 7.53.10 PM

How to reconcile the two?


I draw your attention to what he said on a recent book tour:




“If we were willing to invest in high-quality early childhood education, if we’re willing to pay great teachers and great principals significantly more, the benefits to our society, the benefits to our economy, the benefits to our democracy I think would be extraordinary…

[But] Money is never enough. So you’ll never hear me say, it’s only about money. For me it’s always about your high expectations as well as high support. And we have to hold ourselves accountable for great results. When schools aren’t working, we have to be willing to challenge the status quo. So investment is part of it, but high expectations have to go with that, and we have to hold ourselves accountable as educators for results, absolutely.”


So for Duncan this plan is entirely consistent with corporate education reform.

In fact, it makes sense as a continuation of those policies.



When privatization cheerleaders like Duncan talk about “high quality teachers” and “accountability” what they really mean are strings attached.



In this case, they probably mean merit pay – giving bonuses to teachers whose students get high test scores.



It’s a terrible idea because it encourages bad behavior from teachers, administrators and districts, which in turn hurts kids.


Having all your teachers fight over the rich white kids who get the highest test scores doesn’t help the struggling students. It just means fewer educators will want to teach the underprivileged because they can’t take the financial hit that comes with it.

The result is test prep all day, every day.


I want a raise, but not if it means I have to bastardize my own profession down to that!

And it’s not just Duncan who loves this idea.



Catherine Brown, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), actually helped Harris write this proposal.



“It could be transformative in terms of how we think about elevating and modernizing the teaching profession and the federal role in doing so,” Brown said.



CAP is a neoliberal think tank that worked closely with the Obama and Clinton administrations. And Brown is also the co-author of “The Progressive Case for Charter Schools”.

Any plan to raise teacher salary that is consistent with increased privatization is inherently suspect.

You can’t champion authentic public schools and public school teachers while also pushing for more institutions run without the same transparency, democratic government, and enrollment standards. If you think schools should be able to cherrypick which students to accept, they should be run by appointed bureaucrats, and it’s fine to cut student services while pocketing the profits, you aren’t a friend of public education.



In an article she co-wrote published by CAP called “Fact Sheet: Yes, Increase the Salaries of All Teachers,” she made it clear that merit pay is a good idea.



She wrote:



“…there is still debate surrounding whether all teachers need a raise, or if it is enough to make changes for a select group of teachers through differentiated or merit-based pay. While differentiated and merit-based pay can help alleviate some specific teacher shortages, such as those in subjects or schools that are high-needs, they are not a substitute for higher base pay.”



Ultimately, Brown comes out in favor of an across the board salary increase for teachers, but in her view merit pay is part of that solution.


This is a backdoor for the same snake oil the privatizaters have been selling for years.



As education blogger Peter Greene points out, the language used in Harris’ proposal is right from the neoliberal playbook. It is full of the same euphemisms and code words that have signaled school privatization, high stakes testing and merit pay.

Consider this gem:



“Every child deserves a world-class education, regardless of their ZIP code. Of all in-school factors that impact their success, there’s nothing more important than our teachers.”


“World class education” and  “regardless of ZIP code” mean charter schools galore. And the only “success” these folks are interested in is high test scores.


Or this:


“Our plan will include a multi-billion dollar investment in programs that help elevate the teaching profession and support principals and other school leaders. This includes high-quality teacher and principal residencies early-career induction programs that pair new teachers with mentors and master teachers, career ladder models that allow for advancement opportunities for teacher leaders, and “Grow Your Own” programs that help increase teacher diversity.”



Greene says that the term “Career ladders” is a red flag because it usually denotes career stagnation. It’s code for adding more duties and responsibilities on teachers without actually furthering their careers.



If I’m honest, these are all red flags.


As much as I want a raise, I’m doubtful Harris’ plan would actually accomplish much other than selling my soul to the testocracy.

Ultimately that’s what this is – a Faustian bargain.


We need to invest in greater per pupil spending and let that translate into higher teacher salaries.


We need equitable and sustainable funding formulas that aren’t tied to testing or that don’t open the door for privatization.



And most of all, we need an understanding of the real challenges in education and not a piece of parchment where teachers are supposed to sign in blood.



Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!


13 thoughts on “Sell Your Soul to the Testocracy: Kamala Harris’s Faustian Teacher Raises

  1. I have a better idea that no one has tried before. Pay the students the bonus when their test scores go up. Maybe more students would work harder to learn then.

    After all, the teachers are not there to learn. They are there to teach. It is the children that have to learn from the teachers, so the children should earn the bonus.

    How much?

    $500 annually tor every student that improves their annual test scores according to the benchmark they must meet to prove they have learned something their teachers taught them.

    I wonder how much that would cost if, let’s say, 80 percent of all children K-12 made their benchmark each year.

    And since teachers are not getting the bonuses, they would have no reason to cheat and make sure their students didn’t cheat during the tests.


    • I’m not a fan of this idea, Lloyd. It would turn school into a purely extrinsic activity. It would kill curiosity. And you know parents and kids would offer some of those bonuses to the teachers to magically make their kids learn. Plus what form would the bonus take? Are we giving kids cash? Some parents will beat their kids and steal the bonus. Or beat them worse if they don’t get it. Nice try, but bad idea.


      • Of course it is a bad idea. Bribing kids to learn leads to all kinds of problems – it opens a Pandora’s Box. But right now, the greedy frauds doing all they can to destroy and/or profit off of public education are trying to do the same thing to the teachers.

        Besides, the greedy frauds directing the wrecking ball would never risk paying out that much money unless it flowed into their bank accounts.

        There are only about 3.5 million teachers compared to 50 million k-12 students. Imagine how much it would cost if a majority of those students raised their test scores to get that $500 bonus.

        It’s cheaper to rank-and-punish teachers and only pay a small fraction of the total a bonus of some kind instead of paying billions of dollars to millions of students.

        The bonus to teachers is one of the weapons being used in the rape and murder of public education.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I hate to bust your bubble, but by the time the kids get to high school, school really is an extrinsic activity. What grades, test scores and activities are needed to get into the college of choice. The only curiosity that the students have is if the information being delivered that day will be on the test. I think every HS teacher needs to wear a uniform that clearly states…..”Everything I teach….will be on the test”. But, I’m with Lloyd and his snarky “good” idea.


      • If we paid children to learn and the pay was based on the results of test score gains from annual test-to-test, wouldn’t that be the same as turning K-12 education into a job and the children are the workers and their labor is to learn what teachers teach? If the children can’t prove they learned, they don’t get paid.


  2. Merit Pay in any form is destined to fail as a system to attract and keep qualified teachers, which is what the public school system needs. IMO it is important to consider seriously that the free-market ideology that generates Kamala’s ideas neglect to consider or reject the importance of personal, intrinsic values, like learning, satisfaction, and fulfillment, as well as civic values such as solidarity, justice, fairness, and the search for the common good. In offering money as incentive, it may apparently work, but the trade off will be considerable.


    • I’m with you all the way on this, Sergio. It makes me feel better that you looked at the same evidence and cane to the same conclusion. It’s like having a trusted friend check over my math homework. I was worrying that maybe I hadn’t carried the one!


  3. Kamala is certainly one of the candidates whom I will consider, a decision though, on any particular one is to be made after carefully watching and listening to the things they all do and say.
    Merit pay is a bad idea. But the firing of teachers in order to improve education is not a wholesome idea in general. Certainly people will be fired but so far there seems to be an over reliance on it.
    The process of training and making teachers need to be improved very much if firing has to be resorted to often.
    Still, I will listen to what all candidates say on Education, health, and climate, before making anything near a hard decision on how I feel on their level of commitment to their proposals.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.