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Obama Resurrects Performance Pay


He did it. Again.

Barack Obama spoke to 10,000 adoring fans at the NEA RA, who were all dressed up in blue Obama T-shirts and carrying white "NEA for Obama" noisemakers. He conquered their hearts by promising to "fix the broken promises of NCLB and by opposing the use of public school funds for vouchers. And then he waded smack-dab, for the second straight year, into that most-deplored topic here among these union stalwarts: performance pay.

"Under my plan, districts will be able to design programs that give educators who serve as mentors to new teachers the salary increase they deserve. They'll be able to reward those who teach in underserved areas or take on added responsibilities. And if teachers learn new skills to serve students better, or if they consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well," the likely Democratic presidential nominee said while the otherwise unbearably noisy crowd stood deadly silent, except for a few boos.

Obama added that while he knew that wasn't a popular part of his speech last year, "I said it then, and I am saying it again today because it's what I believe."

Other than those charged moments, it was a love fest.

"I am tired of hearing teachers blamed for our problems," said Mr. Obama, whose speech came live from Butte, Mont., via satellite feed.

He emphasized the importance of recruiting top teachers, and said that undergraduate debt discourages young people from becoming teachers. "If you commit your life to teaching, America will commit to pay for your college education," he promised.

One wonders now how the NEA will reconcile it's opposition to performance pay with the views of its preferred candidate. Will its members and leaders act as though that point of difference simply doesn't exist? Or will we hear more about "enhanced pay" in coming months—something Reg Weaver has mentioned fairly often in recent months,and which he defines as higher pay for teachers in high-risk schools and nationally certified teachers?


Someone please tell me why teachers who go the extra mile, stay after school to tutor the student who needs extra help and all the other wonderful attributes of an excellent teacher should not be rewarded. Maybe I don't understand what performance pay is. Someone please enlighten me because my mom is a teacher and I am a freshman in college and is going to become a teacher. I watch how hard she works and goes the extra mile.

I also am for performance pay. I don't want to be rated Satisfactory, when I work 12 hours a day, put in the extra effort every day to excel at my profession while someone else does the minimum and gets by. They still get rated Satisfactory and get paid the same as I do. There needs to be an area to grow, in which you get compensated for it just as in the private and business areas. We aren't encouraged to do more except for internal motivation. If we were in a business we would be moving up the coorporate ladder. So wonder so many teachers quit, they get in and realize, well do I want to stay in this position doing the same thing for 30 years or do I want to be a principal watching others do the same thing for 30 years? Those are my choices. Now I don't mean to sound negative about teaching, I LOVE TEACHING!! I am just saying that if there were levels to grow, along with growth in pay, maybe more young people would stay with it.

Loran & Kay,
Within the next decade I will be retiring as a teacher, and I agree strongly with you both! It depends on how "performance pay" is defined and managed but I agree with both your postings and with the fact that teachers who consistently go the extra mile should be rewarded and paid accordingly.

Yes, the satisfaction of seeing a child, or an entire class, excel is certainly the real reward in teaching. Ability to pay the bills a little easier certainly helps as well.

There are valid dangers to performance pay as it has been practiced in the past. Lack of true transparency which allows manipulation is usually the issue. It is one of the issues education in the US cannot continue to avoid. That, and the dropout crisis (www.studentmotivation.org), are the major issues we must resolve before we can catch up with the many countries who are now outperforming the US in education.

Performance pay is nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing. Performance pay basically is paying a school in a district for increased test scores (defined as increased student achievement/performance). From that point, the principal or a superintendent MAY award teachers a “bonus” for their hard work at teaching students how to take a test. Some schools will allow the faculty to vote on what to do with the money such as placing in the principal’s emergency fund in which teacher classroom requests may be fulfilled or to split it equally among the staff, or whatever. Most of the time, the teachers usually agree to take it as pay.

Now the wolf-in-sheep’s clothing analogy comes into play when the state’s budget is not formulated to include performance pay. This is where much political turmoil begins in state legislatures. States control the flow of money to local schools which is dictated by the education department’s education finance formula. So, there is no accounting code that can track the money accurately and with reliability. Many states would need to alter some portion of the finance formula and that could take many legislative sessions and political debate. So in this case the Feds would proudly wave the statement of confidence that they “helped” teachers by awarding merit pay/performance to their state agency. But what Obami does not realize is that once that money gets to state level, state bureaucracy takes over! As far as I am concerned, there needs to be more to just using test scores to award performance pay to teachers…one size fits all approach to performance pay will not work from the Feds…do we remember the NCLB approach to student performance?
This is what happens when big government puts their big nose into the lives of students and teachers.

J. Spencer, Ed.S
Science Teacher

Why should we have performance pay? Because maybe, just maybe it will keep individuals like the special education teacher in my classroom from viewing her job as an excuse to sleep behind my desk and give an incentive, other than morality and a desire for educational equity, to the teachers who work relentlessly to increase their students' achievement. Some teachers who are currently in the classroom simply shouldn't. Their indifference towards their students is criminal. Yes, there are numerous factors affecting student achievement, but we all know that a teacher is in a unique opportunity to help students overcome all of the obstacles they face. Why shouldn't we pay teachers more who accomplish this? Millions of urban and rural students are years behind their more affluent peers-it's time to try something new. And we all know that districts could use a carefully crafted equation with a focus on growth, not mastery, to adequately and fairly measure the teachers' impact on student achievement.

When the term "perfomance pay" is used in the education world, it refers to test score results of a particular teacher's students. There is no other way to measure a teacher's performace objectively. If we were talking about factory workers where everyone works with the same parts, and all things are equal, performance pay makes sense. It does not make sense in an educational setting where teachers teach different students, different subjects, and some don't give standardized tests. As far as being rewarded for staying late, going the extra mile, etc., teaching is not an hourly paid job. You are expected to do what it takes to do your job to the best of your ability. Those that don't, in my opinion, should not be in the profession. But they stay because of the shortage of teachers. In the end, if teacher salaries were just brought up to the level they should be, we would attract alot more to the profession, and we would be able to keep the best and the brightest in the classroom. Performance pay would not even be an issue.

The Feds are not competent to carry out performance pay in an efficent manner. The US Department of Ed just received a hand slap for miss managing debit cards. Honestly, do we really think the Feds are going to carry this out with great efficiency?

Performance pay should be governed by the local schools. If Obami and his administration want to be change agents in education, then award a supplement to the local districts in each state and allow the local school leadership to award the performance pay. The locals know who is doing a good job outside of test scores. Anyone can teach to the test. Unfortunately, public education is practicing “legal malpractice” by just teaching to the test. Teachers are not dumb either, we are going to do what it takes to keep our jobs and helps students where we can despite governmental inefficiencies. All state tests are not evaluating students equally; therefore, it makes sense for the state and local systems to allocate the performance pay....only the locals know the kids and teachers, not the FEDS.
J. Spencer, EdS
Science Teacher

I question the previous post. How will the local districts "know" who is a good teacher? On what basis is this determination made? Aren't you just legitimizing teaching to the test anyway?

As for the NEA-RA, I was a delegate and am irritated with the "love affair" the NEA has Sen. Obama. After repeated statements by the senator on vouchers, the union changes its tune and supports him. By contrast, the union cannot approve a item dealing with accepting private K-12 teachers for membership; But pre-K is ok.??? Go figure!! This was one issue that confused me during the debating. An overview of the decision would be appreciated.

To the previous post:
So you are legitimizing that the Feds should be the evaluators of educators and not other educators who have been in trenches.

If you must be reminded, Mother Margret (Spellings) has no professional educator experience and she is head of the US Depart of Ed. So the Feds should be the one to evaluate true perfomance based on how well someone can teach to a test...let me know when the "new" pendulum hits us in the head, and I will start TEACHING again and my students can start LEARNING again. Trust me, Obami does not have the answer and neither do the republicans, look what they have done so far to harden the heart of hard working teachers.

OH...I agree: what is the love affair with Obama? I mean he nothing more than a great headline until you start reading the "fine print". He is like a buying as car for 199 down and 199 a month, until you start looking how much you are really paying for the car.
J. Spencer, EdS.
Science Teacher

Pay for performance works in private industry, it works for people who work hard and well to earn their salary increase, and it can work for teachers. The fear of teacher performance being judged by student test scores is well-founded, and must be avoided. We must not penalize teachers for taking on high-need or high-risk students. That said, it can be done fairly. I find a student growth model appealing.

You are right Cheryl. It can be done, but the politicians are seeing it differently. This is what happens when big government handles education. Teaching to the test, unfortunately, is the norm in today's schools and it sickens me that we are constantly bombarded with test taking strategies and data miners to the 10th degree. The growth should be combined with other variables to award TRUE performance pay. Test scores are not the end all be all to what students know and how teachers teach. This further justifies my rationale why states and local boards should define the criteria for performance pay, not the feds.

Performance pay always sounds good initially, because people believe their own performance qualifies. "Going the extra mile" is what teachers do. And many do it in ways that are less visible. The problem with every pay-for-performance plan I have studied, and I've studied lots, is that subjective judgment is used in most, and the objective element used is "test scores," which are often out of our control. "Everybody knows this teacher is good" is less likely to be used as a determiner than "sucks up to administrators," in my experience.

Are there inequities in public education staffing? Of course. I taught 3 sections of 28 kids in college writing for seniors (and two Brit Lits of equal sizes). Try correcting the writing assignments of 80-plus students preparing for college. Did I notice the difference in what I brought home every day compared to, say, a guidance counselor, or a physical education teacher? Yep. But you don't dwell on it, if you're smart. Every job has its rewards and travails in public education. And the joint purpose of public education outweighs the differentiation that is now being advocated. Start paying physics teachers more than English teachers and the common purpose is washed away in self-interest. Start favoring one English teacher over others, and I will lock my file cabinets, currently available to all colleagues. That's life.

Yes, Obama needs a "talking to" as he moves to the political center, pandering for votes. But keep in mind the alternative: Four more (at least) years of Margaret Spellings; four more years of the utter idiocy of No Child's Behind Left. McCain advocates vouchers, making Obama's approval of "appropriately founded charter schools" sound less awful. Remember the alternative, folks. I may have to swallow hard as I put on the Obama button. But I'll wear it.

Amen to the previous post. But my button shall read NObama.

why are we going BACK to the issue of PRP? some years ago at a conference the issue was raised and several countries' representatives agreed that it was not the way to go. there is no control group;there are too many variables to even think about it especially if we want to look at equuity. Yes, absolutely the good,the great teachers should be rewarded but PRP works with student assessment. How equitable is the case of a teacher working with 'high-risk' underperforming students achieving great success moving them from one level to another compared to one with high-potential students with little movement?or moving really on their own with a nonfunctioning teacher? when we could look at teacher output not just in terms of student grades, then we could look at PRP. Why are teachers who perform at minimum or less br recognized based on the students' performance? Why are we setting up ourselves to ultimately 'cheat' by lowering standards to increase scores?

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