29 June 2009

Time for teachers' merit pay?

School is out, but education is a hot topic right now. The state's budget deadline is hours away, and Gov. Ed Rendell has been out stumping for his education plan, which calls for $300 million in new funds for basic education. Republicans have proposed using federal stimulus money to keep funding for basic education flat. Whichever side you're on, there's no disputing the fact that the quaility of the state's educational system goes right to the heart of how competitive Pennsylvania will be in the 21st-century economy.

How well prepared for college will our students be? How will we reverse brain drain? What will the quality of our workforce be? How attractive will the state be for recruiting and retaininig key employers?

Part of the governor's plan for improving Pennsylvania's public-education system includes new testing for students and new evaluations for principals and teachers. Even the liberal think tank Center for American Progress makes the case in this new report that teacher evaluations should play a larger role in assessing student performance, and now might be the time to consider ideas such as merit pay:

"New educators, both teachers and principals, are more receptive to differential treatment of teachers than were prior generations. Seventy percent of new teachers in a representative sample said that the fact that teachers do not get rewarded for superior effort and performance is a drawback. Eighty-four percent of these teachers said that making it easier to terminate unmotivated or incompetent teachers would be an effective way to improve teacher quality. The influx of so many new educators also provides an opportunity for supervisors to evaluate teachers more rigorously now, before these individuals gain tenure."
What about this? Is it reasonable to think that tracking the performance of teachers and schools and giving bonuses to high-performing teachers might produce higher-performing students?

- Dan Fink


Anonymous said...

Just about every other industry does it so why not teachers, too? I believe it's a great idea and think it's sad that we have to have this conversation.

This is why parents feel so out-of-touch when they feel something is not going well in their child's school or classroom. There is very little to be done about low peforming teachers. Plenty to do for low-perfoming students, though!

Anonymous said...

One of the big challenges is that teacher performance is, very often, evaluated in terms of student performance. This would make it extremely difficult to recruit teachers to work with slow learners or special needs students.

Evaluation might be better viewed from the perspective of student improvement, rather than absolute student performance.

Anonymous said...

Merit pay "sounds great on paper" & I'm not saying it shouldn't be considered. I agree with second comment - teacher evaluation in relation to student performance opens up all kinds of doors for system abuse, i.e. teaching to the test & test data reporting being skewed &/or interpreted too subjectively.

We should use caution when applying the business model in education. Not meaning to sound disrespectful of students, but teachers (particularly those in public education) have no control/input regarding the "raw material" they receive. If a business isn't successful, it can choose alternative materials for its product - teachers can not.

Student IMPROVEMENT - yes, better idea!

Anonymous said...

The new charter school developed under the auspices of YorkCounts will be patterned on The Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School in Bethlehem. This school, a K-12 International Baccalaureate public charter school, gives all teachers a one-year contract and awards them merit pay based not on test scores but on criteria developed in concert by the teachers and administrators of the school. Students are selected by lottery so the "raw material" is what chance selects. All 800 students in the school are meeting AYP goals. It can be done!

Queeinebeanie said...

I think that it would be an awesome idea to give salary increases based on performance and to evaluate the teachers based on their students performance. This is the problem that we are having now. We have some teachers that are residing in their positons merely for a paycheck and retirement.

Warren Bulette said...

A living wage based on the difficulty of the subject taught, plus a value added bonus for each student who achieves an improvement goal set by the teacher and the principal Pay System should replace the present longevity-degree pay system. Parents realize there is simply no correlation between teacher pay and student achievement when good and bad teachers are paid the same. Under the proposed system, a superior teacher could earn $100,000 per year if enough students met their improvement goal. A teacher of special needs students would not suffer. Poor teachers would tend to leave the profession because their earnings would be low. Teacher performance would be rated and fit a bell curve. This would also encourage poor teachers to leave. It would raise overall teacher performance because teachers would not want to be in the lowest 10% of the curve. Administrators should get a base pay tied to number of students under their responsibility plus a bonus if an overall student achievement goal, set by the School Board, is met.

Anonymous said...

How many people who work in other "industry" jobs have salaries that rely on the intelligence of others, the parents of the others at their job, or the misbehavior of the others at their job? None! So why should teachers salaries be in jeopardy when regardless of how hard they work or how effective they are there will always be students who don't get it or have family lives that teachers cannot change.

YorkCounts said...

To the last Anonymous responder:
I can understand a certain level of defensiveness among teachers. And I hear particular frustration in your comment, which tells me you've been working at this for awhile. But I don't think you should view talk of merit pay for teachers as an attack on teachers. I think most people recognize that the vast majority of teachers work very hard, do good work and care about their students. In my own family, I have a brother and a sister-in-law who are teachers; I'm pro-teacher. What I would say to your points is:

1. I'm no expert on the science of it, but there appears to be ways to use very precise data of student achievement and classroom performance to evaluate how well individual teachers are doing. The opportunity here is to use the data to identify what's working and what's not and use that information to help all teachers be better. That's a good thing, right?

2. The only teachers whose salaries would be in jeopardy would be those found to be not performing well. I think any teacher would acknowledge that there are low performers in every school. They're burned out, they're coasting, or they were never good enough to begin with. But the district can't or won't fire them, so their low performance is tolerated. That's a disservice to students and to the other teachers who are doing their jobs well.

3. Finally, I'm not sure we can just write off some kids for "not getting it." Would you want to be the parent who hears from her teacher: "Your daughter just doesn't get it. It's not my fault she's failing. I did the best I could."