First of all, I am for Kerry, and I think this idea is decent.
But here’s the thing. The problem with education in this country has, IMHO, little to do with the quality of the teachers. It is very unfair to administer the same tests to kids in a wealthy suburb and kids in an inner city school, and assume that because the wealthy suburb does better, the teachers must be better. Let’s face it; teachers are only one small variable. An absolutely brilliant teacher may be able to overcome some of the other problems and inspire some of his/her kids to actually learn, but by and large, the quality of the teacher, as long as it is at all decent, isn’t going to have the impact that upbringing and the culture surrounding the school do. It is not fair to hold the teachers responsible for children not learning when those children are immersed in a culture that does not hold academic learning valuable - that scorns it, in fact.
These days this is more true than ever. The parents with whom I work are consistently involved in their children’s education: they supervise their homework, actively investigate the slightest problem the child may raise, and expect (and get) from their children a fair degree of academic achievement. (When I was a kid, btw, this was far less true - I can’t remember ever getting help with my homework, not because my parents were indifferent, but because it was expected that I could and would do it myself.)
Children from families where the parents themselves are only marginally literate, where the parents are paid hourly and thus are unable to take time off to be more involved in their children’s education, where the “cool” kids are making fun of anyone who does well, and there is no counter-acting popular group of academic achievers - these children are unlikely to do as well regardless of the quality of their teachers.
I’m a Democrat, and I strongly believe in funding education - I will happily pay more taxes to do so despite the fact that I have no children myself and never will. But until we seriously change the surrounding environment from which the children who attend consistently underachieving schools are coming, the education problem is not going to be solved, and we will have what effectively amounts to a perpetual underclass. Oh, the occasional kid rises above it, and gets a real education and becomes successful. That’s great for the kid, but it unfortunately gives those who do not wish to fund such changes ammunition, because it allows them to place the “blame” on the kids themselves - if they really wanted an education, they could get it. That’s true, but how many of us have the understanding during our childhoods to reject the culture from which we come and work hard (despite social scorn) to achieve in a milieu that few around us value?
Help eliminate the poverty, demonstrate to the poorest of the poor that escape is both possible and desirable, and work on eliminating the rampant classism (as opposed to racism, which I believe has been largely subsumed into classism) within mainstream society, and educational achievement will rise. Without these things, motivating the teachers is at best a palliative. It will help a little, but it’s not going to change anything significant. By and large, teachers don’t go into teaching for the money; they want to do well. They don’t need help with motivation; they need help in overcoming the handicaps of culture and background that some of them face in their students.
Or at least that’s my take on it. YMMV, of course.