Paul Jacob

Adults have been educating children for thousands of years. Yet, in this 21st century, somehow, I feel a need to remind myself of this fact.

In modern times, education seems mysterious and illusive, leaving us with a schooling system that costs ever more while never quite making the grade.

That's why I was so intrigued by a column written by one Phil Power, former newspaperman, former University of Michigan regent and now president and founder of the moderate Center for Michigan. Power says: "Maybe we really do need to partly reinvent the wheel."

Boy, that's going a long way back. But there is, indeed, "a lot of worry and hand-wringing in Michigan" — and everywhere else, too, of course — "about the costs and quality of public schools."

Seems there is both "a growing taxpayer investment" and "a multi-hundred-million-dollar deficit in the school aid fund."

Strange. More money from taxpayers, but less to go around for education. And why is no one surprised?

But Mr. Power asks a different question: "What if all school employees became state employees?"

Power offers that he understands his question is "consciously radical." (Thank goodness he told us.) When I think about education, however, my mind goes to students and teachers and subjects like Algebra and British Lit and methods of instruction. It just never occurred to me that the level of government that cuts the checks to the folks working in the schools could be the make-it-or-break-it difference.

I guess that's why I'm not an educational expert.

Mr. Power proposes to negotiate just one big statewide contract for teachers and other school employees, as opposed to Michigan's present system where many contracts are negotiated at the local level in each of Michigan's 549 local school districts. He sees this reform as a golden opportunity to open the state's educational system to other much-needed reforms.

Let's call it the "Single-Employer" Plan.

One of Power's hopes is that shaking up the contracting between unions and school management will enable "a statewide pay scale that directly links teacher pay to educational outcomes."

If you want to improve performance, it does make good old-fashioned common sense to relate pay to performance. It seems there is something about pay that makes it a strong incentive to just about everyone.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.